International Day of Persons with Disabilities @UNESCO – the key is IT

UNESCO-disabilitiesdayOn December 3rd UNESCO, Paris organized a one day conference to celebrate ‘International Day of Persons with Disabilities‘.  The conference was in the hands of Dr. Indrajit Banerjee, Director Knowledge Society who invited me to attend. Given the topic, at first I was puzzled to why I was invited. But, that became clear in the very first presentation. Prof. Steven Hawking opened the conference through a video message as his health did not allow him to attend in person. In his brief statement he made it clear that only through technology and specifically through Information Technology he was able to continu with his work, communicate with the world and share his thoughts with others. Hawking is the best example possible that he lives up to his own statement: “Intelligence is the ability to adapt to change” as he has done tremendous work in innovating the User Interface for disabled people.

UNESCO-disabilities1Throughout the day the various speakers on the panels confirmed the positive rol ICT is playing to include disabled people in society. People who often themselves are disabled like Lenin Moreno, United Nations Special Envoy on Disability and Accessibility and Former Vice President of Ecuador or Rachel Kachaje Former Minister of Disability and Elderly Affairs and Chairperson Disabled Women in Africa, Malawi, who are both confined to a wheelchair, stated that ICT promotes the empowerment of disabled people. There is still room for improvement as demonstrated by Micheal Curren an Australian teenager who is blind. He is developing a program which he makes available through shareware to allow: Non Visual Desktop Access (NVPA). A screen reader allowing visually impared to still use the highly graphical mondern day user interface.  Or, the need for a broadband infrastructure to allow people to have the access to information thy need.

Information technology can also be used to raise awaress as pointed out by Natalia Vodianova from Russia who is the founder of the ‘Naked Heart‘ Foundation. Social Media enables the world to connect like following and retweeting #dontbesilent or what she calls ‘Digital Voluntering‘. Just by retweeting a message you can apply the LB principle: “Little actions, Big Difference”.

I believe CIONET members and the wider IT community should take notice. First off all, there are an estimated 1 billion people on this planet who are disabled. A market for which we can develop dedicated technology to enable access and provide inclusion. Furthermore, this conference has also demonstrated that this is a group of people which we need to take into account in respect to the Grand Coalition for Digital Jobs initiative. This group contains a large resource of the eSkills resources which we are all seeking. If only we dare to look.

At the end of the conference, Phillippe Pozzo di Borgo, the person on who’s life the film Intouchables was based, confirmed that IT is providing him access to society by allowing him to focus on his ability and not is disabiliy.

The conference was closed with a Jazzconcert and presentation by Carl Strømer of Jazzcode who also performed at this year’s CIO CITY. Carl’s personal story about his childeren of which one is blind an his wife who suffered a stroke touched the hearts of all present. Including mine.

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