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Growing the Internet

Are Your Virtual Meetings Accessible for People with Disabilities? Start with This Checklist

The COVID-19 pandemic has changed the way humans interact with one another. With an emphasis on less physical interaction and more social distancing, institutions and organizations are moving their work and meetings online.

People with disabilities form about 15 percent of world population, so it is all the more important these online meetings are made accessible.

The Internet Society Accessibility Special Interest Group (Accessibility SIG) aims to make the Internet and its attendant technologies accessible to the largest audience possible, regardless of disabilities. The digital divide is not just about having the access to digital technology, it could also be about having the access to technology and not being able to use it. Our digital products must be usable by all. Many laws and the Internet Society’s vision – the Internet is for everyone – demand that we provide everyone with an equal experience.

The Accessibility SIG is planning a series of seven webinars discussing this very topic. Our first one was titled When Rhetoric Meets Reality: Digital Accessibility, Persons With Disabilities and COVID-19 and was held on May 28.

The way we design and build can make it hard – and sometimes impossible – for people with disabilities to access services and information delivered by our digital products. Accessibility is the practice of designing so that all people, regardless of physical or cognitive ability, can use products successfully.

There are many different kinds of disabilities, but for the purposes of web accessibility, the most relevant types are those that affect the eyes, ears, hands, and brain. (Some examples include visual disabilities, deafness, visual disabilities and deafness, physical disabilities, and cognitive disabilities.)

All of these disabilities affect interactions with digital products and services in different ways. People need to consider accessibility any time they communicate information digitally. Accessibility is not just a concern for websites, apps, and social media. It needs to be front and center for all digital products, whether they are PDFs, PowerPoint presentations, or even virtual events. For virtual meetings and webcasts, it is important to choose a platform that supports accessibility for people that have mobility, vision, hearing, and cognitive disabilities.

Before you host your meeting, you should think about the following:

Is the platform accessible? Some remote participation tools present accessibility barriers that make them unusable by people with disabilities and incompatible with assistive technologies.

Do you have text captioning or sign language interpretations available?

Is the material being shown accessible to all? People with vision impairments use a screen reader and cannot see a shared screen or a video. Make all materials available beforehand or provide a link to them in the chat.

Have you asked invited participants which type of accessibility they need? You can include this question on the registration form.

Will speakers have their cameras on? This enables people who are lip readers follow along.

Is their adequate lighting on the person speaking? People who read lips need to be able to see the person’s lips.

Are presenters using virtual backgrounds? When people use pictures as a virtual background, it can wash away their face.

Are presenters wearing contrasting colors? Suggest that speakers wear dissimilar colors to their skin tone so the contrast will be high. Otherwise the lighting can wash out people’s faces.

The Accessibility SIG advocates for an accessibility-first approach to design and development. This means accessibility is not something that should be tacked on just before you launch. It should be a key consideration from the very start.

The first step is adopting the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines, also known as WCAG. These guidelines, put together by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), outline the development, design, and content standards products must satisfy in order to be fully accessible. The WCAG guidelines have three levels: A, AA, and AAA. A has the fewest requirements to satisfy, while AAA has the most. The Internet Society is looking to meet the level AA standards, which means that it must also meet the level A standards.

The following guides and checklists were created by NYC Government as an aid to other NYC agencies in creating accessible content. We thought they were extremely helpful and recommend using them:

Web Accessibility Checklist
Accessible Social Media Guide
Accessible Slidedecks Guide
Accessible Documents Guide
Accessible Virtual Meetings Guide
Audio Description and Captioning Guide

Among other factors in the domain of Internet and digital accessibility, a lot depends upon the technical community and developers. So, if you are a developer, and developing a device or a website, you need to ensure that your digital product doesn’t prevent over one billion of world’s population to access or use it. We encourage everyone to adopt accessibility practices when creating any digital content. This includes websites, electronic documents, presentations, videos, social media posts, or online meetings!

Making physical meetings accessible for everyone has always been a challenge due to budgetary and other constraints. Nonetheless, we never shy away from the challenge.

Making an online meeting accessible for people with disabilities costs a lot less than making a physical meeting accessible. It just requires a little will and consideration!

Visit the Accessibility Toolkit page to learn how you can contribute to a more accessible Internet.


Image ©Thiago Barletta via Unsplash

Categories
Growing the Internet

A Step Further in Making Pakistan Digitally Accessible

In a bid to improve digital accessibility in Pakistan – a country with about 30 million persons with disability (PWDs), according to the World Health Organization –  we recently partnered with the Ministry of IT (MoIT) and the National IT Board (NITB) so that more existing government websites could include accessibility features and future websites could incorporate such designs. We set out to make five websites more accessible – as a start – and are already seeing encouraging results.

According to local study and research paper, a majority of websites in Pakistan, including government, are not accessible for PWDs. PWDs face various challenges in using websites based on their impairment.

For example, persons with visual impairments can face compatibility challenges when screen reader software is used to access visual displays that are not labelled or hyperlinks that do not make sense when read out of context. Those with low vision are not able to access websites that cannot be adjusted for font type and size, contrast, and use of colors, and individuals who are deaf are not able to understand the narration in an online video if it is not properly captioned.

As part of this commitment given by the government, we organized a 3-day training workshop in Islamabad for web developers/administrators (particularly from government departments). The workshop hosted an extensive learning experience environment, using various tools, techniques, and practical demonstrations. David Berman, an expert in accessible communications design, web strategy, analysis, and training, and his team lead the training covering introduction to web accessibility standards, assistive technologies, good design practices, W3C Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (2.0, 2.1) success criteria, auditing models, and how to make accessible documents for websites.

It was the first of such training in Pakistan, and we were not surprised to hear from the participants that they never heard, nor were they familiar with these website accessibility guidelines and practices. The workshop participants took a keen learning interest, calling the workshop as an ice-breaker to enable accessible websites in Pakistan. I recall Muhammad Shafique, who is visually impaired, saying: “the workshop is game-changer. It made government realize that PWDs require equal access to public websites, to feel part of an inclusive digital society. We are already behind many countries in digital accessibility, but as they say it’s never too late.”

We also witnessed some great commitments from the Ministry and NITB senior officials in reference to recently approved Digital Pakistan Policy that lists several policy measures to enable  digital accessibility for PWDs. They labeled the workshop as a beginning towards implementation of Digital Pakistan Policy, gave affirmation to build a digitally accessible environment, and invited open collaboration on similar initiatives.

The workshop has built local resources by training 30 website developers and professionals, who would now put their learning into practice by adding web accessibility features in government websites. They are also expected to train their peers to build further knowledge.

The journey has not been easy, but now that more government websites are poised to become more accessible and more website developers are more aware of the needs of the PWDs, the results convince us that it is right to try to improve digital accessibility in Pakistan! We hope that the government will continue its support towards an accessible Pakistan so that soon PWDs will benefit from information and services available on all public websites.

The Internet is for everyone! Visit the Accessibility Toolkit page to learn how you can contribute to a more accessible Internet and join A11ySIG!

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About Internet Society Growing the Internet

Introducing The Internet Society Accessibility Special Interest Group

An ordinary day on 9th April 2019 was turned in to an extraordinary one, as our efforts bore fruit and we finally succeeded in chartering the Internet Society Special Interest Group on Accessibility. The Internet Society Accessibility Special Interest Group or ISOC Accessibility SIG/ISOC A11y SIG is intended to serve persons with disabilities to ensure the Internet and digital domain is for everyone.

Over 1.3 billion people worldwide – about 15% of the world’s population – experience some form of disability. The Accessibility SIG, with a people-centric approach, is aimed at providing interested participants a platform to discuss the Internet-related accessibility issues faced by the people with disabilities and to try to find the solutions to those issues. It also aims to provide a collective voice to a community that the UN calls the world’s largest minority.

The SIG also represents a journey for all of us who are members and who are dedicated to creating equal access to the Internet for everyone regardless of disability. The journey at the Internet Society started with the establishment of the ISOC Disability and Special Needs Chapter in 2002. Along the way, many dedicated and tireless workers, like the late Cynthia Waddell, kept the movement alive. The transition from the Disability and Special Needs Chapter to Accessibility SIG was as historic as the formation of the Chapter itself in 2002.

In 2018, when we decided to transform the Chapter to a SIG, there was no precedent of such a transformation at the Internet Society, similar to in 2002 when there was no example of a non-geographic Chapter. But, thanks to tireless support and lots of efforts and dedication by many people, particularly, my fellow SIG leaders (Gunela Astbrink, Vice President; Greg Shatan, Treasurer; Judith Hellerstein, Secretary; Joly MacFie, AMS Admin; and all the founding members of the Accessibility SIG) as well as Internet Society staff (including Kyle Shulman and his colleagues), we were able to finally overcome the challenges of chartering the SIG.

We at the Accessibility SIG believe that accessibility should sit at the heart of policy, planning, and design. For persons with disabilities, this is only possible if the principle of “nothing about us without us” is applied. In the context of Internet and digital devices, the implementation of internationally-recognized accessibility guidelines developed by W3C, also known as Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG), with a little more effort can make a website, application, or device accessible and usable for everyone. It just requires awareness, will, and determination.

Moving forward in this significant journey, we also need your support. If you:

  • have worked on digital accessibility
  • are interested in working on accessibility for people with disabilities
  • are just interested in knowing about accessibility-related issues

Please join the Accessibility SIG!

To join, simply fill out this form or login to the Internet Society membership portal, select “Join a Chapter or SIG,” and select “Accessibility SIG.” Moreover, if your chapter has done work on digital accessibility for people with disabilities, please share the links with us. You can contact us via email, website, or follow us on Twitter.

At different forums, a lot of work on accessibility is being done. The Accessibility SIG hopes to contribute its part to making the Internet accessible, open, safe, and secure for everyone – be they a person with or without disability.

On Thursday, 16 May 2019 at 12:00 UTC, A11ySIG will mark Global Accessibility Awareness Day 2019 (GAAD) with the public webinar “Digital Accessibility for Persons With Disabilities.” Join the webinar or watch the Livestream!

The Internet is for everyone! Visit the Accessibility Toolkit page to learn how you can contribute to a more accessible Internet.

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Growing the Internet Shaping the Internet's Future

Coming Together for an All-Inclusive and Accessible Internet in South Asia

Last year, at the Internet Society Asia-Pacific and Middle-East Chapters Meeting, I was introduced to the series of easily-digestible and thought-provoking issue papers published by the Internet Society. Particularly, the one on digital accessibility had me shaking in disbelief. It stated that one in six people in the Asia-Pacific region lives with disability – that is a total of about 650 million people.

The Internet Society Pakistan Islamabad Chapter had always been active in promoting digital accessibility, but I realized that we need to do more, especially at the transnational level. Thus, the idea of organizing a regional forum on digital accessibility was born, and with support from the Internet Society Asia-Pacific Bureau, it became a reality.

The Regional Forum on Digital Accessibility was successfully held on 7 February in Islamabad. It brought together 120 participants, including Internet Society Chapter leaders from Afghanistan and Nepal, fellows from Sri Lanka, and speakers from India.

A major achievement emerging from the forum was the vow from Pakistan’s high-level government officials to include representation of persons with disabilities in the recently-established Prime Minister’s Task Force on Information Technology (IT) and Telecom that is developing a roadmap for Pakistan’s digital transformation. There was also an affirmed commitment by Pakistan’s Ministry of IT and Telecom to ensure implementation of the provisions for accessibility in the Digital Pakistan Policy.

At the forum, participants discussed the policies and best practices for removing barriers to digitial accessibility for persons with disabilities throughout South Asia. The forum also featured case study sessions on plausible and replicable solutions from the region, as well as panel discussions on the various paradigms of accessibility.

There was immense interest from the audience to learn about the various digital accessibility initatives undertaken by countries in the region. The regional forum unanimously agreed that a whole-of-government approach is the best way forward to safeguard the accessibility rights of persons with disabilities. We can only have an “all-inclusive” digital transformation if we make the Internet accessible to persons with disabilities.

The Internet is for everyone. Visit the Accessibility Toolkit page to learn how you can contribute to a more accessible Internet.

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Beyond the Net

Visually Impaired Students in Rwanda Get a New Chance

Jacqueline is attending S4 secondary school HVP Gatagara. She used to read well, but when she reached primary five she went blind and started using audios.

“Studying with audios was challenging” she explains. “Sometimes I got bored and fell asleep. As time went by, I got experienced and I was able to pass my national examination regardless of my blindness.”

A project led by The Internet Society Rwanda Chapter and supported by Beyond the Net Funding Programme is implementing a breakthrough solution that will impact Rwanda’s education sector, addressing the urgent need of a functional learning environment for the visually impaired students.Visual impaired people are not aware of benefits they can get from the Internet. Awareness of what is possible and what is already available is crucial, especially for blind students. Young Jacqueline believes that big things have small beginnings and that the Internet will give all students a better opportunity for a successful education: “We have a lot of books here, but we can’t take them home as others do. My request is to turn these books into audios and make them accessible to allow me and my classmates to keep on studying.”

A project called Internet for Education-Online Audio Library for visual impaired people will convert textbooks into audio files and store them into an online database that will be available to all blind learners. The solution focuses on replacing the current education method based on converting physical books into Braille documents – a process that makes every single page generate ten pages written in Braille language.  Braille equipment is also bulky and difficult to use, resulting in a challenge when training a large number of students.

Jean Benda Nkurunziza, project manager and coordinator, goes into detail: “The database will be hosted in Gatagara, an institution for disabled persons. ISOC Rwanda Chapter will ensure to provide access to educational resources through online streaming. Downloading and storing files on smartphones or other audio digital devices will be possible. A new way of providing recorded homework and student tests will be introduced as the project is making progress.

What drove you to start this project?

According to a report released in 2012 by the World Health Organization, one out of every 100 people in Rwanda is visually impaired. The current number of visual impaired people is about 400,000. Only two schools in the country are specialized in teaching to visually impaired students. Ideally, every district should have a school for the blind to avoid children travelling from one point of the country to the other. Most blind people are not getting jobs because people think they cannot work or operate machines such as a computer. There is an obvious need to help this people using the Internet by providing a database of information that is suitable to their lives.

What are the long term benefits of this project?

The availability of online educational resources will allow any school to have teaching space for visually impaired pupils and traditional classrooms will turn into digital ones. The entire country will finally find a solution to the lack of special schools. People with visual disability will be introduced to other ways of communication such as voice texting through social media platforms. As a result, we will achieve the inclusiveness of blind people in the society and the digital literacy objective.

What are your first steps?

We are working on stakeholder engagement and database development. We are also exploring possibilities using available solutions such as Vimeo platform. The school has started selecting the textbooks that will be digitized.

Find out how the Internet can be an enabler of change for the education sector in Africa within the framework of the Global Education Agenda adopted by the United Nations.

Download our report:  Internet for Education in Africa – Helping Policy Makers to Meet the Global Education Agenda Sustainable Development Goal 4

Related articles:

Do you have a great idea to make your community better via the Internet? Apply for a Beyond the Net grant, which funds projects up to $30,000 USD, and follow Beyond the Net on Twitter!

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Events Growing the Internet Internet Governance

Muhammad Shabbbir Awan: Reflections on the WTDC17

It’s been 5 months since WTDC17 concluded and I had time to reflect on the outcomes of the conference and the experience itself. WTDC sets the ITU’s development agenda and in Argentina last October over 1000 government delegates from close to 135 countries gathered during the two-week period. They were there to discuss a range of issues and shape the development sector’s priorities for the next four years. For me, it was a trip of many firsts: my first experience as an observer participating in a multilateral conference; my first trip to South America; and, as a visually impaired person, the eighteen hours flight duration was my first such experience.

To recall, I was a member of the Internet Society delegation as a Fellow. For me, the two motivators to apply for the fellowship opportunity were: first, the theme for WTDC17 (“ICTs for Sustainable Development Goals”) and possibility to make a difference. Second, my quest to learn even more about Internet Governance processes and to participate in the discussions.

WTDC17 had a packed agenda that included ceremonial events marking the 25th Anniversary of the Development Sector and side events on a range of Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) topics.

My blindness posed a challenge, but not enough that we could not overcome it except in a few cases. Nonetheless, one challenge that we could not bridge was related to the accessibility of the “ITU Sync Tool” with my screen reader. It is the tool participants can use to access the conference documents. Despite the efforts by the ITU technical staff there was no immediate fix. The only solution was to rely on my fellow delegates to share the documents with me. I hope the issue has been fixed in the 6 months since then, because it was disappointing not to have the required updated documents available while they were being discussed in the sessions.

Another misperception that I tried to change was the low expectation that people had about people with disabilities (PWDs). With my participation I hope that more people understand that PWDs are just people who cannot see, hear, or have physical impairment. Any impairment is a physical characteristic, but it is not the characteristic that defines them or their capabilities. Plus, it is the societal barriers that turn an impairment to disability. Therefore, policy makers and technologists should work with PWDs to remove the ICT-related policy and technical barriers in our quest to shape a better tomorrow.

At the same time, a sad fact that I observed during the conference was the very low participation of PWDs. There was a lot of discussion on accessibility-related issues in a number of resolutions, which would not have been possible without input from PWDs. However, there was not a single organization that highlights mainly issues of PWDs. Therefore, PWDs should also realize that they need to come out of their comfort zones; get themselves composed and united; participate in such conferences and forums; and raise their voice to resolve their issues. I am a firm believer of the dictum “nothing about us without us” meaning that no one can express the problems and issues of PWDs better than PWD themselves and no solution should be implemented or can be successful without our active participation. However, PWDs themselves need to be fully prepared and participate in these discussions actively. Policymakers have a role to play as well. They should include PWDs on issues related to PWDs in their national preparatory processes and on delegations.

Despite all this, it was a wonderful experience. Most importantly, it was collectively a challenging, thought provoking and exciting opportunity. It led me to think about how I could best improve myself. and what more can be done to improve ICT accessibility for PWDs. It also taught me how to make the best of whatever opportunity and circumstances you have. One of the most exciting parts about this experience was sharing my WTDC17 experience with members of the Internet Society’s Islamabad, Pakistan Chapter.

Having navigated the ITU system for about a year and having attended WTDC and experienced most of the accessibility related issues myself, I believe that it is high time that the ITU designate a focal point for telecommunication/ICT accessibility for persons with disabilities to strengthen the Digital Inclusion programme and to make ITU conferences more inclusive and accessible for us. This will allow PWDs to raise the accessibility-related issues within ITU and will save them the time and resources to log their request at the right forum. The issue emerged during WTDC17 under Resolution 58 (“on telecommunication/information and communication technology accessibility for persons with disabilities, including persons with age-related disabilities”) and consensus was reached to take it to the 2018 ITU Plenipotentiary Conference (PP-18) in October as this body adopts the ITU’s four-year strategic and financial plans.

Since regional and national preparatory meetings for PP-18 are underway, one can hope that a focal point is designated within the ITU to deal with accessibility related issues. Moreover, to achieve the goals for ITU’s Connect 2020 global agenda and the SDGs, which reference ICT accessibility for PWDs, the issues need to be identified and highlighted. And, I am sure that having a focal point for accessibility would ease the process.

In a nutshell, I am happy to say that the promise that technology holds for enhancing people’s lives is extraordinary. However, it is equally true that technology, if not appropriately-designed and implemented, is the biggest threat to an inclusive digital future. Harnessing the extraordinary promise of technology is within our reach, but it will take leadership, commitment, and ongoing oversight. The alternative is a future where we spend our time, money, and innovative capacity retrofitting bridges to patch the digital divide rather than enjoying the economic and social advantages gained by the increased usability of technology and the increased leveraging of human capacity that results from technology that is designed and built to be accessible to all. I would reiterate my earlier statement that “if we want to build a digital future where people come first, accessibility needs to be at the heart of Internet policy, planning and design”.

Read more about Digital Divides in the 2017 Global Internet Report: Paths to Our Digital Future.

Take action! Help shape a digital future that puts people first.

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Growing the Internet

Together We Can Reduce Barriers

Accessibility is a human right.

People with disabilities want and need to use the Internet just like everyone else, but what can we do to reduce barriers? Especially when one billion people globally have a disability, with 80% living in developing countries.

But accessibility doesn’t just happen. Policymakers, program managers, and technical experts need to incorporate it into their work right from the start – and we need champions for accessibility to make it happen.

Everyone in the Internet community can contribute to reducing barriers! People working with policy, programs, communications, and education can incorporate accessibility.

 

It doesn’t just start with websites. While this type of access is crucial, we can go even further – accessible interfaces for the Internet of Things or phone apps are just two examples.

In addition, organizations can offer a more inclusive approach with:

  • Learning programs and packages (content and delivery)
  • Communications programs – websites, online conferencing, discussion forums, printed material
  • Policy development – has a policy position been considered in terms of its effects on people with disability?

Want to learn more about what you can do to make the Internet accessible for all? Read the W3C Introduction to Web Accessibility, and learn about the DAISY Consortium and the Dynamic Coalition on Access and Disability, two organizations working to ensure equal access to information and knowledge.

The Internet Society strives towards a future where “The Internet is for Everyone”. Visit the Accessibility Toolkit page to learn how every person in the Internet community can contribute to a more accessible Internet.

Learn how you, too, can help shape tomorrow!

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Growing the Internet

Building a World Free of Barriers: Vashkar Bhattacharjee’s Story

We recently shared Part One and Part Two of Vashkar Bhattacharjee’s story. Vashkar is the National Consultant, Accessibility, A2i, Prime Minister’s Office of Bangladesh, the Second Vice-President, GAATES (Global Alliance on Accessible Technologies & Environments), and the Program Manager, Young Power in Social Action (YPSA).

Our research at Young People in Social Action (YPSA), Bangladesh revealed that developing multimedia talking books would not be enough to ensure proper learning among students. For that to happen, the students required access to rich vocabulary libraries for proper understanding of language. (We have been supported by a2i program’s Service Innovation Fund to develop Bangladesh’s first accessible dictionaries in English and Bangla available in both online and offline modes.)

People are amazed to see persons with visual impairment using computers and smartphones. This has been made easy thanks to the open-source screen-reading software that can convert text to speech. People with visual impairment can also use the standard QWERTY keyboard just like everybody else as it has become second nature. Among the 50 people working at YPSA, 32 have a disability. ICTs have helped them overcome physical barriers.

In the role of a2i’s national consultant for disability, I am working on making different websites accessible for all following W3C’s Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0 standard to achieve sustainable goals by 2030 where no one would be left behind. Among these websites, the most significant one is the National Portal which is a harmonized system of public websites that reduce the hassle, time, and costs incurred by citizens in accessing and availing themselves of government information and services.

I am also leading an initiative as part of a2i to encourage the Bangladesh government to take the steps necessary to ratify the Marrakesh VIP Treaty to facilitate access to published works for people who are blind, visually impaired, or otherwise print disabled. The Marrakesh VIP Treaty is an international agreement that will help an estimated 285 million blind people worldwide have greater access to books published in accessible formats. Implementing the Marrakesh VIP Treaty would remove restrictions on the ability of Bangladesh to import legally-produced audio and Braille books without specific permission from the publishers.

Now that I look back at my life, I cannot help but be amazed. While I did not have any teachers at school trained to teach blind students, here I was, about 15 years later, teaching blind people how to access content using the power of ICT and the Internet. For the last 20 years, I have been closely working on promoting accessible technology and information for people with disabilities. In the process, I have engaged in multiple dialogues with leading think tanks and policymakers who are promoting the agenda of accessible information for all, including the Internet Society, APNIC, the DAISY Consortium, ITU, the Accessible Books Consortium of WIPO, and the Global Alliance of Accessible Technology and Environments (GAATES).

Lastly, I tried to inspire people in my community to move forward to use “accessible technology” for the betterment of all and to create a community so they can take another big step towards living their lives with blindness. I am ever grateful to YPSA for trusting my abilities. I acknowledge Access to Information (a2i) program for their overall support in implementing initiatives for the empowerment of persons with disabilities. I strongly believe that together we can build a world free of barriers.

Vashkar Bhattacharjee will be attending the Internet Governance Forum (IGF) later this month as an IGF Ambassador, where this year’s theme is Shape Your Digital Future. He welcomes other attendees to reach out to him to learn more about his work.

In the meantime, you can read the W3C Introduction to Web Accessibilityand learn about the DAISY Consortium and the Dynamic Coalition on Access and Disability, two organizations working to ensure equal access to information and knowledge.

The Internet Society strives towards a future where “The Internet is for Everyone”. Visit the Accessibility Toolkit page to learn how every person in the Internet community can contribute to a more accessible Internet.

Learn how you, too, can help shape tomorrow!

Categories
Growing the Internet

Making Education Accessible for All: Vashkar Bhattacharjee’s Story

We recently shared the first part of Vashkar Bhattacharjee’s story. Vashkar is the National Consultant, Accessibility, A2i, Prime Minister’s Office of Bangladesh, the Second Vice-President, GAATES (Global Alliance on Accessible Technologies & Environments), and the Program Manager, Young Power in Social Action (YPSA).

Setting up an accessible digital talking book system (DAISY) in Bangladesh

After training in Japan, I was armed with knowledge in leadership and technology and wanted to create digital access for people with disabilities in Bangladesh. I wanted to prove that people with disabilities like me can work in our job market, but nobody wanted to believe me. With Young People in Social Action (YPSA), a social development organization in my home district of Chittagong, I worked as a volunteer on creating computerized braille production, which allows for printing to be in done in Braille, thus creating the tools for education for people with visual impairment. Very soon, we obtained funding to establish a digital lab, called ICT and Resource Center on Disability (IRCD), to develop assistive technologies and content for persons with disabilities.

In 2005, I was introduced to the Digital Accessible Information System (DAISY) Consortium, where I received inspiration from international experts to work harder and smarter, and make better use of available technologies. I received support to become an International Trainer on the use of ICT-based assistive technologies for persons with disabilities.

Once I returned from the training program, I introduced DAISY’s international standard for accessible publishing in Bangladesh. Since then, with support from a2i program’s Service Innovation Fund, YPSA has converted all the text books for class 1 to class 10 into multimedia digital talking books through engaging persons with disabilities themselves. From this format, the books can be converted further into accessible eBooks and digital braille books and these can be made available to students with a print disability or a learning disability. The project received technical support from the DAISY Consortium, Accessible Books Consortium and WIPO. For its contribution to making education accessible for all, including those with a learning disability, this innovative initiative has received 4 international accolades including the World Summit on Information Society (WSIS) Prize 2017 from the International Telecommunication Union (ITU).

It was on my journey in 2014 to receive the ISIF Award for Multimedia Talking Book that I was introduced to APNIC. At the APNIC 42 conference, I received recognition from the Internet community. They admired the resilience and talent shown by a person with a disability in producing innovative applications.

Read Part Three of Vashkar’s story.

Vashkar Bhattacharjee will be attending the Internet Governance Forum (IGF) later this month as an IGF Ambassador, where this year’s theme is Shape Your Digital Future. He welcomes other attendees to reach out to him to learn more about his work.

In the meantime, you can read the W3C Introduction to Web Accessibilityand learn about the DAISY Consortium and the Dynamic Coalition on Access and Disability, two organizations working to ensure equal access to information and knowledge.

The Internet Society strives towards a future where “The Internet is for Everyone”. Visit the Accessibility Toolkit page to learn how every person in the Internet community can contribute to a more accessible Internet.

Learn how you, too, can help shape tomorrow!

Photo: Vashkar Bhattacharjee holding the Accessible Books Consortium International Excellence Award with Ms. Anne Leer, then WIPO Deputy Director General. Photo credit: London Book Fair.

Categories
Growing the Internet

Technology with Purpose: Vashkar Bhattacharjee’s Story

In honor of today’s International Day of Persons with Disabilities, we are sharing Part One of Vashkar Bhattacharjee’s story. He is the National Consultant, Accessibility, A2i, Prime Minister’s Office of Bangladesh, the Second Vice-President, GAATES (Global Alliance on Accessible Technologies & Environments), and the Program Manager, Young Power in Social Action (YPSA).

I am Vashkar Bhattacharjee, a visually impaired person from Bangladesh. And this is the story of how I have excelled in life and career, not through sympathy and charity, but through inspiration and assistance.

In Bangladesh, every 1 in 10 persons experience at least one kind of disability. I am one of approximately 4 million Bangladeshis who are visually impaired.

In 1979, like most of the villages in Bangladesh, my village in the district of Chittagong did not have doctors or hospital facilities. On July 1st in the same year, in a small remote village called Bagdondi, I was born in my parental home without any medical supervision. Right after my birth, I was bleeding through my nose and mouth. My parents and relatives could not figure out what was wrong. After a while, the bleeding stopped and everything seemed to be normal. By the time I was two years old, my parents realized the heartbreaking truth that I had gone blind. Both my father and mother are well educated so after my birth they welcomed me and prepared how to overcome all odds for my survival and life resumed as so-called normal.

In Bangladesh, even until the end of the previous millennium, majority opinion was that blind citizens are nothing but a burden to society and that they are incapable of performing any income-generating activity. While education was supposed to be a basic right for every citizen, it used to be considered a luxury for children with visual disabilities in Bangladesh, even more so in rural Bangladesh. My parents deliberated long and hard about whether they wanted me to have an education, along with all the other children of my village. Others questioned why I should be going to school, since they believed that the only way I could survive was by charity.

After some searching, my father came to hear about a primary school for the blind, where I was soon admitted. Back then, text books in Braille were rarely available, and few schools had writing frames or Braille paper. As a result, I was considered a freak of nature when I managed to complete the Higher Secondary Certificate (HSC) exam and got into university, while most of my primary school buddies had dropped out of school after completing secondary school.

At university, the journey got much more difficult, since I had to compete with students who could see and who did not require the teacher to read out the lessons. I am truly grateful to some classmates who helped me take down notes and prepare for exams. But the exams were another hurdle, since I had to convince my teachers to provide me with an assistant during exams who would listen to my answers and write them down on paper.

It was these experiences that made me think more deeply about the need for accessible education and shaped my life. With great support from my teachers and fellow students, I graduated with honours in history from Chittagong University and obtained a Master’s degree in General History.

But then came the time to start looking for a job and to earn my own living. I realized how bad the situation was for blind persons, whom no one will hire for fear of their presumed lack of productivity. As a result, I was unemployed for a number of months and had to learn the hard way that theoretical learning alone would not be enough — I needed to be technologically skilled as well. ICT and the Internet opened my inside eyes.

It was during this difficult time that I was blessed to win a place in the fourth Duskin Leadership Training in Japan, a program for persons with disabilities in Asia and the Pacific. From August 2002 to July 2003, I was trained in applications of Computer & Information Technology for Persons with Visual Impairment. This was the turning point of my life, when I understood my life’s purpose: to make services accessible through the use of ICT and Internet.

Read Part Two of Vashkar’s story.

Vashkar Bhattacharjee will be attending the Internet Governance Forum (IGF) later this month as an IGF Ambassador, where this year’s theme is Shape Your Digital Future. He welcomes other attendees to reach out to him to learn more about his work.

In the meantime, you can read the W3C Introduction to Web Accessibilityand learn about the DAISY Consortium and the Dynamic Coalition on Access and Disability, two organizations working to ensure equal access to information and knowledge.

The Internet Society strives towards a future where “The Internet is for Everyone”. Visit the Accessibility Toolkit page to learn how every person in the Internet community can contribute to a more accessible Internet.

Learn how you, too, can help shape tomorrow!

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Beyond the Net Community Projects

For Me the Internet Is Everything: Supporting Local Heroes in Armenia

Andranik, Sipan, Rudolf and Vahan have several things in common: they are young, they have dreams, they love music, and they love the Internet. The four of them are visual impaired.

They met through the Internet Availability Center at the Cultural House of the Armenian Society of Blinds (ASB).

I had the chance to visit the Center last year and Rudolf told me: “For me the Internet is everything. I cannot imagine what my life, my studies would be without it.”

The Internet Availability Center for visually impaired was created in 2013 following an initiative of the Internet Society Armenia Chapter supported by Internet Society Grants programme. Soon after its creation, the center became a meeting place for young people with visual impairments. They realized the importance of the reach of the Internet in their community  and came up with the idea to create an Internet radio for visually impaired individuals in the Armenian language.

Radio Menq (‘We’ in Armenian) went live on May 30th, 2017. The programs cover rights and privileges, practical problems faced in day-to-day life, and provides advice and solutions for those who are visually impaired. It also talks about opportunities and tells success stories from famous blind people.

The project was selected as one of the 90 ITU WSIS Prizes 2017 Champions. It was recognized as an innovative initiative to empower a local community through the Internet.

Sipan Asatryan, the editor of Radio Menq programs, told us: “It was a good surprise and an inspiration to me that our radio was nominated as one of Champions of the WSIS Prizes 2017. I think it shows that our audience liked our work targeted to increasing public trust toward visually impaired people, spreading proper information, and promoting tolerance toward visually impaired in Armenia.”

Igor Mkrtmyan, the Armenia Chapter President, shared:

“Blind people must believe in their own strength and abilities. After Radio MENQ went live, many participated in the radio either as a program presenter or a sound technician. Internet radio is becoming a path to new horizons and opportunities for blind people. Often there is a stereotype that the blind person can’t work on an equal footing. Internet work, whether in a freelance capacity or as part of a team, allows you to break down these stereotypes. The Internet enables people to be who they choose, to develop for themselves, and as a part of their community.”

Watch the video and meet the Radio MENQ team

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Development Growing the Internet Human Rights

Promoting Digital Accessibility in Sri Lanka

Starting December 2015, the Internet Society Asia-Pacific (ISOC APAC) Bureau in collaboration with local stakeholders including government, industry and the civil society, has led a series of endeavours to help further digital accessibility in Pakistan.

Building on the success of our work in Pakistan, and in an effort to replicate the learnings in other parts of the Asia-Pacific, we recently held a workshop on digital accessibility in Colombo, Sri Lanka, hosted by the ISOC Sri Lanka chapter.

The workshop started off with a training and awareness session on accessibility standards and design principles. The session had Persons with Disabilities (PWDs) sharing their experiences and needs with website and mobile application developers. The moderator, Deshabandhu Manique Gunaratne, explained accessibility features and guidelines with some tips for the development of accessible websites and applications. She also explained some of the approaches to the redesign of the user interface for websites using Website Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0 standards.

It came as no surprise that most of the developers present had no idea about accessibility features, or of some of the easy-to-implement actions when developing websites and general applications. Sharing the experience of users with visual, hearing and physical impairments, it was stressed that the optimal approach to promoting accessibility is by building it in during the design phase of websites, services and applications.

PWDs also mentioned the affordability of assistive technologies, cultural stigma issues, lack of digital literacy, unavailability of appropriate local language content and connectivity problems as some of the other barriers that limit them from better using the Internet and mobile technologies.

In the latter part of the workshop, various stakeholders, both from the public and private sector, engaged in a dialogue on digital accessibility policies, products and services in Sri Lanka. The Hon. Secretary, Ministry of Telecommunications & Digital Infrastructure, Government of Sri Lanka and Mr. Senarath Attanayake, Member of the Uva Provincial Council were among the session speakers.

During the discussions, it was highlighted that the Sri Lankan Government had issued a policy direction in 2010 to improve both accessibility and usability features of all government websites. However, the implementation of this policy has remained slow – largely because government webmasters are not aware of accessibility design principles.

Some of the other points raised by the PWDs ranged from adoption of standards by government for designing accessible websites and services; the accessibility of emergency services; support for relay services; access to local information about suitable communications products and services; the involvement of PWDs and their representative organisations in policy development processes; and establishing a coordinated monitoring and reporting framework related to the progress of digital accessibility in Sri Lanka.

The workshop concluded with a call for some immediate action, including implementing accessibility features in the top 10 government websites and developing a training program on web accessibility for government employees (especially developers/webmasters) with the support of the Ministry.

Some of the workshop moments are captured at http://bit.ly/2oR00pV