Leaving no one behind: From digital divide to digital empowerment

22 June 2017

Making cyberspace equally inclusive and accessible for all was the focus of the side event hosted by UNESCO last week at UN Headquarters in New York, USA. Jointly organized with The Nippon Foundation and the World Federation of the Deaf, the event was part of the 10th session of the Conference of State Parties on the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD).

Dr Kasinskaite-Buddeberg presented the recent UNESCO work related to persons with disabilities, including the Guidelines on the Inclusion of Learners with Disabilities in Open and Distance Learning (ODL), and a Consultative Expert Meeting on the inclusion of sign languages within the context of the upscaling of the UNESCO Atlas of Languages in Danger to a World Atlas of Languages. She also shared information about the establishment in 2016, with the generous support of the State of Kuwait, of the UNESCO/Emir Jaber Al Ahmad Al Jaber Al Sabah Prize for Digital Empowerment of Persons with Disabilities.

Prof. Alireza Darvishy, winner of the 2016 edition of this Prize, contributed to the discussion by presenting recent trends in the IT industry and ongoing projects on the development of prototypes accessible for persons with disabilities. He stated that ICTs have a vast potential to improve the independence and inclusion of persons with disabilities since accessibility features are built-in to an ever greater extent in the design phase of IT solutions, including Free and Open Source Software (FOSS). Inclusive digital solutions can offer opportunities for work, leisure and social interaction. They can also be used as sources of information.

Mr Ishii Yasunobu, a representative of The Nippon Foundation, described recent initiatives of the Foundation, including support provided to the development of the Asian SignBank project. He also shared information about the upcoming Asia-Pacific Festival of Artists with Disabilities in Singapore (22-25 March 2018).

Prof. Gladys Tang, from the Centre for Sign Linguistics and Deaf Studies, the Chinese University of Hong Kong, reported to the participants on recent developments in sign language documentation, including the Asian SignBank project, which aims to create a digital hub as a permanent archive for Asian sign languages.

Mr Florjan Rojba of the World Federation of the Deaf (WFD) outlined the Manual for Sign Language Work within Development Cooperation and its guiding principles, as well as case studies of the sign language work in different parts of the world.

All participants were unanimous in their understanding that scientific and technological progress should not deepen further the divide between the young and the elderly; children, women and men; speakers of lesser-used languages; those who live in remote and urban areas; as well as those who are differently abled. However, it should provide new opportunities to access multilingual information and knowledge, using inclusive ICTs and enabling full expression through culture and arts, to ensure full participation in society.