7.1.1 WSIS Key Principles

The WSIS Key Principles and Plan of Action contain many commitments on the development of an Information Society that enables the education, training and employment of persons with disabilities. It recognizes the special needs of persons with disabilities and, under the Key Principles, highlights the importance of universal design and the use of assistive technologies in enabling access to the Information Society. It emphasizes that an inclusive information and communication infrastructure is an essential foundation to the Information Society and that national ”e-strategies” need to take into consideration the “special requirements of people with disabilities.”

The Key Principles and Plan of Action contain numerous obligations on the special needs of persons with disabilities which include:

  • Accessible ICTs are to be used in all stages of education, training and human resource development (Declaration of Principles: 30).
  • The production of ICT equipment and services are to be developed in accordance with Universal Design Principles and usable with assistive technology (Plan of Action C2 (f)).
  • There should be an inclusive framework for ensuring universal access to information and knowledge for all (Plan of Action C3).
  • Capacity building, addressing the need to ensure the benefits offered by ICTs for all, including disadvantaged, marginalized and vulnerable groups (Plan of Action C4)
  • The production of content (multi-media, websites etc) that is accessible by people with disabilities and is provided in their own language (Plan of Action C8 23)
  • The recognition of the unique potential of teleworking and telecenters to enable the equitable employment of people with disabilities and to enable them to work independently within their communities (Plan of Action C7 19 (c))
  • The need for software to be accessible and affordable by all, in particular marginalized groups such as people with disabilities
  • The need for collaborative efforts on the development of affordable software and to foster collaborative development, inter-operative platforms and free and open-source software for education and digital inclusion programmes (Tunis Commitment 29)

The International Telecommunication Union’s 2010 mid-term report on “Monitoring the WSIS targets” states that

In view of the challenges faced in meeting the WSIS, MDGs [Millennium Development Goals] and EFA [Education for ALL] targets, it seems unrealistic to assume that conventional delivery mechanisms will be capable of ensuring the affordable and sustainable provision of quality and equal education opportunities for all by 2015. Indeed, the biggest challenge for many education systems is to be able to offer training or learning opportunities to traditionally underserved or marginalized groups. ”

Accessible ICTs are increasingly viewed as a key means to deliver on the international development strategies and treaties referenced in this module.

UNESCO’s focus is on the human dimension of the information society beyond connectivity and infrastructures. Education, knowledge, information and communication are placed at the core of human well-being as nations move toward becoming inclusive Knowledge Societies. In 2003, UNESCO made available a series of publications summarizing some of the most essential issues related to the development of the information society, including ICTs and persons with disabilities.164 These publications are intended to measure the upheavals brought about by the emergence of ICT. They also deal with the potential for development, the difficulties encountered, possible solutions, and the various projects implemented by UNESCO and its partners.

UNESCO’s World Report:Towards Knowledge Societies165 published as a contribution to the WSIS process in 2005, stressed the existence of multi-faceted digital divides in societies:

“There is not one but rather many digital divides. They are not exclusive and tend to combine according to local realities. There are numerous factors that contribute to the digital divide … economic resources, geography, age, gender, language, education, employment and disability”.

164UNESCO, Status of Research on the Information Society, UNESCO Publications for the World Summit on the Information Society, 2003. p. 59-68. http://portal.unesco.org/ci/en/files/12515/10621625063status-1-84.pdf/status-1-84.pdf

165UNESCO World Report: Towards Knowledge Societies. UNESCO Publishing, 2005. p. 30. http://unesdoc.unesco.org/images/0014/001418/141843e.pdf