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    Harnessing assistive technology for Persons with Disabilities in South Asia

    Tv24 Desk: Facebook and GSMA hosted a virtual industry discussion marking the tenth anniversary of the Global Accessibility Awareness Day (GAAD) and to drive more collaborations on disabilities inclusion in South Asia. The panelists included Vashkar Bhattacharjee, National Consultant for Accessibility, a2i, Aspire to Innovate program of the ICT Division in Bangladesh. There were also representatives from Facebook, G3ict, Dialog Axiata in Sri Lanka, and DeafTawk in Pakistan.

    Assistive technologies (ATs) are systems and services designed to improve access for persons with disabilities, many of whom are often excluded and marginalised in society. There are an estimated 690 million persons with disabilities in the Asia Pacific region and ATs are still largely inaccessible to them. Action is required to reach this underserved segment of the population, drive innovation, and address the physical and social barriers.

    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. Tech and mobile industry, for example, need to consider accessibility needs and methods early on, and increase the number of persons with disabilities in the development and testing process. By doing so, we can make meaningful change and help ensure no one is left behind in an increasingly digital world.”

    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 percent of persons with disabilities in Bangladesh are mobile owners, of which 55 percent consider that mobile helps them with their daily tasks, 67 percent say it provides them a feeling of safety and 53 percent think it gives convenient access to useful information.

    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.

    “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.

    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.

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