Making ICTs More Accessible

Information and Communications Technology (ICTs) are an ingrained part of today’s society, ranging from cell phones to computers to broadcast radios and more. It is impossible to live in the world without encountering an ICT in your daily life, especially in a developed country. This means that ICTs can become an extremely effective tool for battling obstacles for marginalized groups like persons with disabilities. For example, UNESCO claims that ICTs can be used in education for persons with disabilities by using them as tools to identify barriers, provide teacher training, identifying minimum standards and gaps in implementation, and more.

However, ICTs can also reinforce these barriers. This is especially due to the “Digital Divide”. The term “digital divide” refers to a difference in access based on economic and social systems in regards to ICTs. There have been several large scale projects on these divides. The first of these was the ITU sponsored Maitland Commission Report which discovered the missing link- the disparity in telecommunications access between developed and developing countries. The NTIA later published Falling Through the Net, showing the imbalance in internet access between urban and rural parts of the United States. Both concluded that these differences were intolerable and provided solutions to bridge the gap. These studies show the wide variety in digital divides and the heavier impact that marginalized communities feel such as where they live (like in these reports), their race, class, age, etc. The impact always falls the most on those already oppressed.

Because ICTs are a tool for both augmenting and breaking down widespread discrimination, access must be carefully observed for inconsistency. When reinforcement of gaps is found, concrete steps must be taken in order to limit impact. One such practical strategy can be found in the controversial McBride Commission Report, or Many Voices One World. This report advocates for the strengthening of national media to pursue democratization of communication, particularly in developing countries, in response to the imbalance in access to information. The WSIS and follow up WSIS+10 conferences also aimed to combat the digital divide between richer and poorer countries by increasing the multistakeholder process. Despite this work, digital divides still remain a rampant problem today, affecting many marginalized groups across the globe. The international community must continue to build on past work like these reports, shifting to a greater focus on what can be done in terms of practical solutions that bring affected groups to the forefront.

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