Dealing with disability in the connected society

Posted on April 7, 2011  /  0 Comments

There wasn’t much of a problem with the disabled back in the old days. They were kept behind closed doors, so there was not much demand for accessibility in public places and such. Things have changed, for the good.

Now, in the developed world, every part of a building must be accessible by wheelchair. Pedestrian crossing make a noise in addition to just the color signal. Not yet available in our part of the world, but the pressure is on.

When I was in charge of a graduate program at a US university, I admitted a blind student into the PhD program. It was a multi-year commitment on both sides, so I did a lot of asking questions before the final commitment was made. I was truly surprised how many resources had been developed for the blind using ICTs. That was 15 years ago. I am sure more is available now.

Capabilities in terminal devices must be matched by capabilities in the networks. That requires policy and regulatory involvement and action by operators. Ten years ago, we were struggling to get rid of massive waiting lists. Now we have 75 percent of Sri Lankan households connected, to illustrate from one country. It is time, it is beyond time, we address the needs of the differently abled.

Nirmita Narasimhan, a lawyer on the staff of the Center for Internet and Society, has been leading the charge. During her short visit to Sri Lanka at LIRNEasia’s invitation she will meet with the Telecom Regulatory Commission, the ICT Agency and the Jinasena Trust, in addition to giving a colloquium at LIRNEasia on the 8th of April. As we develop a new line of work tentatively entitled “Consumer rights in the connected society,” we will look to learn from Nirmita on how we can make the definition of consumer inclusive.

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