5.3 Assistive technology for persons with disabilities
The United Nations estimates that there are more than 1 billion people living with disabilities around the world.190 Policymakers need to consider measures to ensure that ICTs are accessible by persons with disabilities. This means, for example, that accessible features related to vision, hearing, mobility or cognition need to be included in mobile handsets. Moreover, websites should be designed to be accessed with screen readers for the blind, and computers should be adapted for people with limited mobility.
In addition, since many persons with disabilities are illiterate, it is essential that basic life skills training be provided as part of Internet initiatives, so that disabled individuals can become independent and fulfilled members of society.
Ideally, funding and planning for accessible ICTs and more specialized equipment, known as assistive technology, will be incorporated as an integral component of ICT and education plans. However, even in less-than-ideal planning exercises, policymakers and educators should identify technologies – both hardware and software, as appropriate – that enable students with disabilities to access online resources and participate in online collaborative environments. In addition, assistive technologies can be employed to enable persons with disabilities to access existing resources that have previously been out of their reach, such as translation of textbooks into audiobooks. For more information on accessible ICTs and assistive technology, please see Module 4 of the Connect a School, Connect a Community toolkit.
Assistive technologies can include different types of input devices, such as large-type keyboards, specially designed monitors, text-to-audio and speech recognition applications, and even alternate workstation configurations to accommodate those unable to sit in traditional chairs. In addition, funding for assistive technologies could include extending the learning environment outside the classroom or school.
For example, Pakistan’s universal service fund has initiated a programme to provide ICT-related equipment to visually impaired citizens.191 Although the project is not necessarily education-focused, it could serve as a model for bringing educational opportunities to those who may not be part of the general school population.
Telecom Portugal and Qualcomm are collaborating to fund pilot projects that use 3G mobile broadband technologies for persons with disabilities. 192 The idea of broadband connectivity is to improve educational opportunities and effectiveness for all students. Using assistive technologies ensures that this includes persons with disabilities.
World Report on Disability http://www.who.int/disabilities/world_report/2011/en/index.html
191 Masun, Noshid, “Universal Service Fund (USF) Pakistan’s Special Project on ICT for Persons with Disabilities,” presentation to Asia-Pacific Regional Forum on Mainstreaming ICT Accessibility for Persons with Disabilities, 26 August 2009, http://www.itu.int/ITU-D/asp/CMS/Events/2009/PwDs/docs/Session-5-Masud.ppt