CSUN Keynote Panel on International Accessibility and Information and Communication Technology

The next few days I’ll be posting some notes from the California State University Northridge (CSUN) 26th Annual International Technology & Persons with Disabilities Conference.

Tonight the keynote panel that was moderated by Mike Paciello and included Paul P. Schafer, Mohammed Al-Tarawneh and Axel Leblois. You can read the full bios for Paul, Mohammed and Axel on the conference website. The theme of the panel was an international perspective on closing the gap between assistive technology and information and communication technologies (ICT).

The State of International Accessibility and ICT

To start the discussion, Axel responded to Mike’s question on the state of international accessibility by stating that we are in an unprecended period of growth of technology and devices, citing statistics that there 5 billion mobile phones, 2.5 billion televisions, 1.2 billion personal computers and 1.6 billion Internet users.

Axel then discussed the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) and mentioned that 99 countries have already ratified it. Mohammed expressed a hope that the United States will soon become the 100th to ratify the treaty and Paul reported from conversation with Judy Huemann that the treaty would soon be going to the US senate.

International Accessibility and ICT Challenges

Mohammed discussed the challenges of the CRPD and how those challenges affect ICT. He said that there is a gap between developed and developing countries. He hopes that countries with the resources and expertise will offer needed financial, technical, education assistance to developing countries.

Axel discussed the problem that although there is much research happening in the area of assitive technology, little of the research done at universities actually makes it to market. Lots of money is being spent on that research that never ends up benefitting end users.

Paul mentioned another issue is that the cost of assistive technology in 3rd world countries is still to expensive, but expressed hope that as mainstream products such as Android devices become accessible they will eventually help assistive technology become more affordable.

Solutions to International ICT Accessibility Problems

Looking forward, Paul felt that some solutions to increasing access to ICT might be the mass market utilization of technologies such as text-to-speech (TTS), speech recognition and brain-computer interfaces (BCI). He also sees potential for assistive technology cloud services. Paul also emphasized the importance of sharing best practices- both in technology and business processes. He discussed the importance sucessfull businesses mentoring others with the goal of getting more accessible practices into off-the-shelf products to replae more expensive, proprietary solutions.

Mohammed said that the CRPD is a powerful legal instrument that binds member states to abide by every single article, but that some member states are unaware of all obligations that signing the treaty brings. He is hopeful that academic institutions, the private sector, civil society organizations and governments will work together to help those in developing countries who lack resources.

One of the areas where Axel has seen success is working on the “low hanging fruit” of accessibility of telephones and televison broadcasting in developing countries. Often there is an FCC-like organization that simply needs training of what they need to do to be more accessible. He also discussed the business value of assitive technologies in expanding markets such as mobile and cloud-based solutions.

Other Keynote Business

After the panel, Alan D. Muir received the the Fred Strache Leadership Award and Klaus Miesenberer received 2011 Trace Center’s Harry J. Murphy Catalyst Award. In his acceptance speech Klaus shared a chinese proverb that went something like this:

“If you want to be happy for a day, get drunk. If you want to be happy for a month, slaughter a pig If you want to be happy for a year, get married If you want to be happy for a lifetime, plant a garden”

If you have an additions or corrections to the above, please let me know!

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