UNESCO/Emir Jaber Al Ahmad Al Jaber Al Sabah Prize

In this post I am going to talk a bit more about what exactly this prize is, before sharing some insights from Tim Unwin who graciously agreed to speaking with me on the topic.

What is the Prize?

The UNESCO/Emir Jaber Al Ahmad Al Jaber Al Sabah Prize for Digital Empowerment of Persons with Disabilities is one of twenty three UNESCO prizes, and the only one to focus on persons with disabilities. The prize of $40,000 USD is divided equally between an individual person and an organization.

The UNESCO/Emir Jaber Al Ahmad Al Jaber Al Sabah Prize was created in 2002 to promote quality education for persons with disabilities, to raise awareness on the right to education for people with disabilities, to share good practices in the field of inclusive education, and to encourage the replication and adaptation of such practices in different contexts. The prize is supported by the State of Kuwait and managed by the Education Department of UNESCO.

In 2015, the UNESCO/Emir Jaber Al Ahmad Al Jaber Al Sabah Prize was reviewed and shifted to the management of the Communication and Information Department of UNESCO. UNESCO and the State of Kuwait expanded its scope and enlarged its mandate by establishing closer conceptual and empirical linkages to social, technological, communication and information as well as other society aspects related to social inclusion. To express this expansion, the Prize has been renamed “UNESCO/Emir Jaber Al Ahmad Al Jaber Al Sabah Prize for Digital Empowerment of Persons with Disabilities”. The review found that the prize had not reached the status that UNESCO had hoped for in terms of global recognition and awareness building,

Part of the review process in 2015 also resulted in changes to the application process. The new process aims to be more rigorous by the use of a clearer application form and a measurable set of criteria for a jury to be able to score the applicants. This addresses a key issue common among prizes like this, the lack of a transparent and objective way of scoring the nominees. Prizes are also inherently problematic due to the fact that the prize itself is typically funded by a particular State or organization, which leads to challenges in terms of objectivity.

An interesting fact to note in regards to this award is that in looking at past winners to date, the winners are mainly organizations and individuals from wealthier countries and the winners are nearly exclusively white westerners. It definitely makes me wonder how objective the prize is, and how well promoted it is throughout the rest of the world.

Discussion with Tim Unwin

“Persons with disabilities are the most marginalized group of people in the world” –Tim Unwin

Tim pointed out that despite some of the problems inherent in prizes, any prize that can raise awareness for people with disabilities and inclusive technologies is a positive thing as they are, in his opinion, the most marginalized group of people in the world. He suggested that this prize might be more effective in raising awareness if held every year rather than every 2 years. One of the unique things about UNESCO prizes is that UNESCO National Committees must nominate individuals and organisations for the prize. This has the advantage that the National Committees becomes quite familiar with the nominees and can help support wider capacity building of the organizations.

How sustainable are ICTs in improving the lives of persons with disabilities in developing countries?

Tim has written extensively on ICT4D (Information and Communication Technologies for Development) so this was definitively a question I had looked forward to asking him. He first discussed how the technology sector itself is not based on a sustainable model, so ICT4D will always have to overcome this in order to be sustainable. He writes specifically on ICTs, sustainability and development in an ITU publication, ICT-centric economic growth, innovation and job creation. Moving on from there, we discussed how disability and accessibility have undergone significant positive growth in regards to recognition and awareness. However, the challenge remains that very many of the poorest and most marginalized people with disabilities are not yet feeling the potentially positive effects of these changes.

There are differences between assistive and accessible technologies and conversations regarding this are becoming more and more polarized. Tim’s view on this is that the conversation should be about how to integrate and utilize both, rather than argue for one or the other. Even with the most accessible technologies, for those with certain disabilities they may not be truly accessible unless aided by assistive technologies. Unless all technology is accessible to everyone there will be ongoing increased marginalization.

In our discussion, Tim challenged the notion that technological developments are necessarily sustainable, highlighted the need for developing both accessible and assistive technologies, and concluded that if we can continue moving in the direction of making technology accessible to as many people as possible then sustainability in ICT4D can be increased. Great efforts are still needed in ensuring technologies are accessible to people with disabilities, and Tim pointed out that it is important to design these technologies WITH rather than FOR persons living with disabilities.”

What do you think? Is ICT4D really a sustainable option for persons living with disabilities?

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