Envisaging inclusive digital economies and societies

Cosmas Luckyson Zavazava
Director, Telecommunication Development Bureau, ITU

10 years of ITU’s “Accessible” events

The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that 1.3 billion people experience significant disability. Essentially, this means one in six people require special consideration when it comes to technology and policy.

While information and communication technologies, or ICTs, enhance the lives of most people, they are particularly crucial for persons with disabilities. For them, ICTs serve as vital lifelines, breaking down barriers and enabling them to actively participate in various aspects of life.

Thus, the vision of the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) for universal and meaningful connectivity extends beyond mere access to technology.

The ultimate goal should be to empower every individual – regardless of age, gender, ability, or geographical location – to participate fully and effectively in the digital world without any obstacles. That is why ITU’s Telecommunication Development Bureau launched the Accessible event series 10 years ago – to address barriers and support efforts from all stakeholders to create more inclusive digital environments worldwide.

Today, this is the main platform to discuss ICT accessibility and ensure that everyone is included in today’s digital society, with no one left behind.

The observance the International Day of Persons with Disabilities on 3 December promotes an understanding of disability issues and mobilizes support for the dignity, rights, and well-being of persons with disabilities. It also seeks to increase awareness of gains to be derived from the integration of persons with disabilities in every aspect of political, social, economic, and cultural life.

Building knowledge to ensure inclusion

Through the Accessible series, we collaborate and form partnerships to help address accessibility issues and support the social and economic inclusion of persons with disabilities and persons with specific needs through digital.

ITU recognizes the diverse landscape of best practices, regulatory requirements, and policy conditions that shape digital societies and economies across different regions.

For that reason, these conferences – taking place every year in the Americas, the Arab States and Europe – bring together policy makers, industry leaders, civil society representatives, and other individuals to discuss the latest advances, challenges, and opportunities, aiming to make their respective countries and regions inclusive for all. They help to strengthen regional collaboration and incentivize the drafting of national policies.

Advocating for digital accessibility at the regional level in 2023

Over the last 10 years, Accessible Americas has emerged as ITU’s key regional platform for exchanging effective approaches in digital inclusion.

We have developed a variety of resources in multiple languages, and we continue to offer online and in-person capacity-building opportunities. Additionally, we provide advice on policy and strategy, focusing on strengthening a disability-inclusive agenda to empower individuals of all ages, genders, and abilities, in all locations.

In the Americas

We recently celebrating a decade of achievements with 10th anniversary edition of Accessible America in Cuba.

The event highlighted digital transformation and accessibility, digital skills development and meaningful connectivity. It also explored gender and youth digital inclusion, accessibility as a requirement in the metaverse, the elderly in the digital world and remote communities, and other pertinent topics.

The President of Cuba, H.E. Miguel Díaz-Canel, attended the celebrations, organized in partnership with the Ministry of Communication of the Republic of Cuba, along with other high-level Ministers and Vice-Ministers.

Accessible Americas, courtesy of the Ministry of Communications of Cuba
Accessible Americas, courtesy of the Ministry of Communications of Cuba

In the Arab Region

Most recently, the third edition of Accessible Arab Region concluded in Morocco on 30 November, organized in collaboration with the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA) and hosted by Morocco’s Digital Development Agency (Agence de Développement du Digital).

The event underscored digital accessibility as a fundamental right, an enabler of progress, and a cornerstone of inclusiveness. We have seen a remarkable level of engagement from stakeholders across the region.

Accessible Arab Region was an opportunity for participants to share experiences and knowledge about ICT accessibility projects, as well as initiatives to support the social and economic inclusion of persons with disabilities and those with specific needs through digital technologies.

Accessible Arab Region
Accessible Arab Region

In Europe

I now look forward to the next Accessible event, taking place Madrid, Spain on 13-14 December, organized by ITU and the European Union in cooperation with the Accessible EU Resource Centre.

Each year, Accessible Europe also serves as a valuable knowledge and networking platform to mark the International Day of Persons with Disabilities, which is celebrated annually on 3 December. Find out how to join here.

Building an accessible world

Through these regional engagements, we seek to pave the way for a more accessible and inclusive future. I invite you to join the discussions!

Recognizing the significance of these events, my aspiration for next year is to bring all Accessible events together in one Accessible World gathering.

Stay tuned for more information, as we work towards creating a unified platform, further enhancing the impact of our work to ensure we leave no one behind.

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