Facebook and the GSMA on Harnessing Assistive Tech for Inclusion of Persons with Disabilities in South Asia
Islamabad, 20 May 2021 – Marking the tenth anniversary of the Global Accessibility Awareness Day (GAAD) and driving more collaborations on disabilities inclusion in South Asia, GSMA and Facebook hosted a virtual industry discussion today, with panelists from DeafTawk (Pakistan), a2i (Bangladesh), Dialog Axiata (Sri Lanka), G3ict.
Persons with disabilities are often excluded and marginalized in society due to a lack of access to opportunities and services. Assistive technologies (ATs) are systems (i.e. hardware or software) and services designed to improve access for persons with disabilities. The UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD) recognizes that every person with a disability has the right to access affordable ATs. ATs are instrumental in helping persons with disabilities to overcome some of the physical and social barriers of disability.
There are an estimated 690 million persons with disabilities in APAC and unfortunately, ATs are still largely inaccessible to them. Action is required to reach this underserved segment of the population and to address the barriers and requirements of persons with disabilities, drive innovation and place them at the heart of the design process.
Speaking at the event, Michael Nique, Senior Director, GSMA Assistive Tech, said: “Removing the barriers faced by persons with disabilities requires informed action from all stakeholders. The tech and mobile industry, for example, need to consider accessibility needs and methods early on and increase the numbers of persons with disabilities in the development and testing process. By doing so, we can make meaningful change and ensure inclusion in an increasingly digital world.”
Echoing what Nique said, all panelists at the webinar agreed that digital innovations could bridge the access gap to ATs and promote the inclusion of persons with disabilities. For example, based on the GSMA Intelligence Survey 2019, 41% of persons with disabilities in Bangladesh are mobile owners of which 55% consider that mobile helps them with their daily tasks, 67% say it provides them a feeling of safety and 53% think it gives convenient access to useful information.
Panelists also discussed how the current global health crisis presented immense challenges acutely felt by persons with disabilities, but it also brought advancements in accessibility.
Monica Desai, Global Head of Connectivity and Access Policy, Facebook, shared some of the company’s recent initiatives and innovations in this area, including the GAAD pledge that Facebook took last year and the commitment to making the React Native open-source framework fully accessible.
Furthermore, earlier this year Facebook introduced improvements to Automatic Alt Text (AAT), which represents multiple technological advances that improve the photo experience for Facebook users. This latest iteration achieved an industry first by making it possible to include information about the positional location and relative size of elements in a photo.
“We, at Facebook, believe that access is an opportunity and when everyone is connected, we all benefit. Our goal is to make it possible for anyone, regardless of ability, to access the information and connections that happen on Facebook. We are excited to continue advancing accessibility and building collaborations to make more progress on inclusion for persons with disabilities in South Asia and around the world,” said Desai.