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Research to promote accessible ICT for persons with disabilities in the Pacific

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Research to promote accessible ICT for persons with disabilities in the Pacific
The Pacific Disability Forum (PDF) research titled “Accessible ICT for Persons with Disabilities in the Pacific: A case for Cook Islands, Fiji, PNG and the Republic of the Marshall Islands” aims to promote accessible ICT in the Pacific and establish a baseline data of ICT usage by persons with disabilities in Cook Islands, Fiji, Marshall Islands and PNG.

PDF through this initiative aims to contribute to identifying the development need for ICT in the region around ICT accessibility to benefit persons with disabilities. There has been little effort to ensure how ICT in the Pacific can benefit persons with disabilities, and this research is a positive step towards identifying specific ICT needs of persons with disabilities that will inform a regional accessible ICT agenda to ensure the Leaders’ commitment to the disability sector.

In the 2015 Forum Leaders meeting in Papua New Guinea, ‘Accessible ICT’ was one of the five top development priority for the region, receiving the Leaders attention as a regional development issue. The Framework for Pacific Regionalism also commits to an inclusive development for the Pacific region and the current Pacific Regional ICT Strategic Action Plan (PRISAP) commit to ensure the effective utilisation of ICT for sustainable development, governance and improving the livelihood of Pacific communities with a guiding principle of universal access to bridge the digital divide. These inclusive frameworks are important for persons with disabilities to make sure that ‘no one is left behind’.

ICT accessibility plays a key role in ensuring that persons with disabilities are empowered with necessary information that will enable them to communicate and effectively participate in society on an equal basis with others. It is an enabler that will facilitate the obtaining, sharing and use of information by persons with disabilities in their daily life. PDF currently have an initiative in Vanuatu in partnership with the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), a small research on ’Accessible ICT’ for persons with disabilities, and through this research PDF hopes to replicate the Vanuatu initiative in Cook Islands, Fiji, PNG and the Republic of Marshall Islands.

The research will also enable PDF to get a better understanding of the ICT needs of persons with disabilities in the Pacific, collect necessary data and information to strengthen its advocacy on accessible ICT standards in the region.

The inclusion of the perspectives of persons with disabilities is equally important for the development of inclusive regional ICT standards, policy, regulations and or governance structure needed to promote accessible ICT in the Pacific region. Hence, the research aims to strengthen the promotion of accessible ICT for persons with disabilities in the Pacific through close collaboration with Disable Persons Organisation (DPO) in the four focus countries.

In the research, PDF will conduct desk reviews on work done on accessible ICT in the Pacific and evaluate the relevant materials available on universal design for ICT standards. PDF will work in partnership with the relevant DPOs as the focal point for surveying members to obtain the necessary data that will be the baseline for accessible ICT in the four countries. Furthermore, a web accessibility audit of government and CROP agencies websites will be conducted through an automated accessibility evaluation tool and manually by a person with a vision impairment using screen-reading software. This activity will provide an indication of the level of access that persons with disabilities have on governments' and CROP agencies’ online information and services. As more countries and organisations develop e-government policies, inaccessible websites will limit persons with disabilities access to necessary information on available services, programmes and other information that will empower them to participate effectively on an equal basis with others.

The one-year research project is part of the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat NSA Program funded by the European Union.