"ICT is in many ways a revolution for persons with disabilities" - guest post by the Swedish Disability Rights Federation

26 October 2018

Information and communication technology, ICT, is in many ways a revolution for persons with disabilities, allowing access to communication. The UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with disabilities, CRPD, is the first UN convention that takes up ICT. It establishes Universal Design as the way to realize a sustainable society with access for all and persons with disabilities as co-creators.

Since the beginning of the century the Swedish Disability Rights Federation has cooperated with researchers to find methods for active participation in design from the outset. 10 years ago we initiated a Design for all Master class at the European E-inclusion conference in Vienna with users, ministers and industry co-creating prototypes with innovative ideas for electronic payment.

Our member organisations representing a wide range of persons with cognitive disabilities have been especially active in initiating projects that meet the needs for persons that do not read a text, with apps for cinema and tv with great usability for different needs. They are also involved in international standardisation of guidelines for cognitive accessibility and easy to read. Still in cooperation with researchers, learning about different needs, data collection and improving methods for user involvement with technology for communication.

There are however many challenges. Many older persons, persons with psychosocial disabilities or living in group homes do not even own a computer. There is no data about ICT use from this population, partly because of the methods used for data collection. Organisations representing persons with disabilities are not involved in the fast development of technology using Artificial intelligence, AI. How will understanding of human diversity and needs that are not “the norm” be integrated in AI innovations with public funding when there is no requirement about Universal Design? Citizens have become involuntary guinea pigs for some really bad ICT solutions for example in transport. Public agencies and municipalities have already started using AI for decisions about social security benefits, without involving users with communication impairments.

The European Commission has started work on ethics for AI. But ethical guidelines are not enough. The European Accessibility Act will not be enough. We need decision makers to take full responsibility for implementing the CRPD, demanding Universal Design of all new ICT products and services, including AI, with active involvement of users with disabilities from the outset and throughout the process to make sure that no one is left behind.

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