Most news related to the South American countries are published in Spanish or Portuguese, and we therefore do not read so often about activities to promote mobile accessibility in LATAM. But this fall, the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) is organizing the Accessible Americas event in Colombia and in conjunction carries out an accessibility app challenge for Latin America and the Caribbean. In an interview for the GARI blog, Bruno Ramos, ITU’s Regional Director for Latin America, told us more about the event, the app challenge and about mobile accessibility in his region.
What is the motivation for the ITU to carry out the Regional Competition for Latin America and the Caribbean “Mobile Applications for Accessibility”?
Bruno: Let me start with a few words about the event. Accessible Americas is dedicated to exploring how we can make telecommunications more accessible for persons with disability. The idea of the event is to put key stakeholders in accessibility together with ITU’s core people which come from telecommunications, and to create an environment where they can discuss openly about how to improve accessibility in telecom. This was the motivation for the first Accessible Americas event in 2014. Our idea was to have three events, where we would decide on concrete actions and activities to be taken and show the results in the next year’s event, keeping in mind also that the Paralympics will take place in Brazil in 2016. So our initial idea when we started thinking about these events back in 2013/14, was also to propose some concrete actions to the Paralympics Committee.
I mention all this because the Regional Competition for Latin America and the Caribbean “Mobile Applications for Accessibility” is something concrete and an outcome of the Accessible Americas event 2014. We decided to organise this competition and encourage developers to come up with concrete applications that can improve the day-to-day life of people with disabilities.
What are your expectations in terms of outcome of the challenge and longterm impact on the region?
Bruno: Our first objective is to promote the idea of accessibility in telecommunications and to create a network. One of the challenges in our region is the lack of coordination. We have several activities related to accessibility, we have many institutions dealing with this topic, but often there is a lack of awareness what the other countries around are doing in the same field. So one of the first ideas was to create a database with the names of key stakeholders in accessibility in the region. And we did succeed in that, we have now a relevant database. One of the outcomes of the second Accessible Americas could be to create a distribution list and share news and information.
Our second objective is to raise awareness among app developers and encourage them to create apps for the different types of disabilities.
Who do you expect to participate in the challenge and how do you assess the submitted apps?
Bruno: In the beginning, we did not have a list of app developers that were particularly focused on developing accessibility related apps. The idea therefore was to use the cooperation with Samsung, who has a big database of app developers in the region, to distribute the information about our app competition among developers. We finally received almost 50 proposals from the whole region. We received several good ideas, both from experienced app developers that already have developed apps, but also from ordinary people who cannot be yet called a developer, but had a good idea and do not have the necessary funds to create an app. In the future, we might actually divide the competition into two segments: one for already developed apps and one for app projects/ideas.
How are you assessing these apps?
Bruno: We split the selection process between ITU staff that have experience in accessibility - ITU has a department that works on telecommunications for persons with disabilities - and experts from Samsung. In this committee there was also one person with a disability. But for the next edition our idea is to invite some organisations of persons with disabilities to take part and assist us with the evaluation process. They are the ones that can better evaluate what is helpful in real life for persons with disabilities.
What are your future plans in terms of accessibility in the mobile ecosystem in Latin America and the Caribbean region?
Bruno: We want to get the Accessible Americas on the region’s agenda. For example, in the last meeting of the Inter-American Telecommunication Commission (CITEL), Peru requested to organise a meeting on accessibility in conjunction with the next PCC1 meeting (PCC1 is one of CITEL’s committees that deals with regulatory activities in the area). Our idea would be to do this in the framework of the Accessible Americas and hold a joint ITU-CITEL meeting, creating one forum in the region where all accessibility and telecommunications stakeholders can be together. It is important to bring all of them together, and also to remember that telecommunications today is not the goal but the basis for creating accessibility. If we get good proposals out of these events and positive feedback from the countries, then we will continue to organise the event also for the coming years.
What kind of actions/measures do you think would enable the region’s telecommunications to become accessible for all?
Bruno: Telecom is changing everything and is changing itself constantly. Every 2-3 years, we are facing new developments. I don’t think that there is one main element that can move accessibility forward. Rather we need to make sure to include accessibility on the region’s agenda as an important topic and motivate and assist countries to create a national and regional legal framework, and we have to make sure we involve the Organisations of Persons with Disabilities because they know what they need, what is already there and what still needs to be developed, and we have to work with the providers of infrastructure to increase the awareness that along with the extension of bandwidth and network coverage in rural areas, accessibility too is an important issue to be included in their agenda.
Out of the 6 finalists in the Mobile Applications for Accessibility challenge, one person/group will be selected to participate and present their app at the Accessible Americas event in Colombia from 4 to 6 November 2015.