Accessible Technology and the Developing World

June 2018

Nearly all research on the accessibility of information and communication technology (ICT) and its consequent use, whether from a legal or technical perspective, has focused on developed countries (Global North), with very little examining the challenges and opportunities arising in the developing world (Global South). Moreover, a commonly held perception is that technological innovations and applications typically originate in the developed sphere (e.g., Apple products, Facebook, touchscreens) and are then transferred, with cultural and linguistic adaptations, to the developing world (for example, text to speech apps that communicate in Spanish language). However, the same resource limitations and lack of existing infrastructure that foment the Global North to Global South narrative create incentives for significant innovation in the developing world. A notable example of “necessity as the mother of invention” in this context is the government of Ecuador. Despite technological and resource constraints, Ecuador deployed a network of field workers using GPS technology to identify the location of its population of persons with disabilities across that country, including those living in hard-to-reach rural and jungle terrain. In consequence, Ecuador is prepared to assist its disabled community in the event of natural disaster (i.e., volcanoes, earthquakes, and tsunami), whereas the vast majority of technologically advanced countries have no parallel safeguards. Moreover, some Global North countries like the United States continue to utilize inaccessible emergency alert systems. To advance knowledge on how governments, development agencies, bilateral donors, NGOs, disability advocacy groups, and technical communities can make ICT more accessible to the 800 million persons with disabilities living in the developing world, we will hold this advanced seminar, followed by an edited volume which will include contributions by scholars and practitioners from the global community, including selected seminar participants.