Addressing Disability Access to ICT - Globally
As information and communications technology (ICT) rapidly develops and advances, access to advanced communications products and services is increasingly important for those with disabilities. TIA’s manufacturer, supplier, and vendor company members are long-standing supporters of inclusion for all populations in access to these important products and services. TIA members actively work to enhance access for consumers with disabilities to advanced communications products and services, both individually and through the development of global, voluntary, open, and consensus-based standards.
The United States is widely regarded as a leader in the ensuring high levels of accessibility generally, and to advanced ICT, for disabled populations. Our members strive to ensure compliance with relevant laws. In addition to supporting the spirit of the law (which in some cases relies upon the same standards I mention above), TIA believes that some key concepts at the core of TIA’s advocacy, including competitive- and technology-neutrality, in the application of requirements, have been and will continue to be crucial to making sure that regulatory requirements do not inhibit the ability of product and service developers to innovate. But the ICT industry, probably more than any other industry, is global, and we must realize that requires a global approach that encourages technical feasibility, flexibility in the application of requirements, and harmonization with international standards.
For example, rather recently the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (ICASA) put forward new draft regulations to enhance the accessibility of communications services to those with aural and/or visual disabilities, which TIA has submitted input on (available here). In our filing to ICASA, we detail how the most effective way to enhance accessibility to advanced communications devices and services for consumers with disabilities is to take a balanced approach that provides clarity and feasibility in regulation, along with adequate flexibility to innovate products and services while respecting technical feasibility concepts (such as realistic product cycles). TIA also urged that it is advantageous for countries developing new technical regulations to rely upon international, open, voluntary, consensus standards by designating them as “safe harbors” (in other words, a product’s compliance with the standard constitutes acceptable performance while other methods of achieving the regulation’s goal are still permissible). Benefits to such an approach include reducing barriers to the importation of high-quality products that comply with globally-accepted quality standards, and reduced cost to the consumer for these products.
Update: Since this blog post was written, TIA has presented to the ICASA on their proposed regulation during a July 10, 2014 public hearing held in Johannesburg, South Africa - please see our presentation slides here.
TIA is also proactively engaging with the disability community. In early June, TIA will be leading a session at this year’s M-Enabling Summit (more here), an annual conference promote mobile accessible and assistive applications and services for senior citizens and persons with disabilities leveraging the latest operating systems, handsets and tablets based technologies. TIA’s session will be focused on emerging accessibility trends with the “baby boomer” generation, and we’ll be joined by experts to discuss statistics related to and success patterns for the adoption of mobile apps and web services by seniors. Elsewhere at the Summit, we look forward to engaging with consumers, regulators (both domestic and foreign), and other stakeholders as we work to enhance inclusion for all populations in access to these important products and services.