As RD discussed with Tim Unwin in her previous post, UNESCO awards one person and one organization for their inclusive ICT work every second year with a prize for Digital Empowerment of Persons with Disabilities. While awaiting the publication of the nominees of the 2018 awards, this last post of our blog will present the 2016 winners of the prize and reflect on the significance of their work.
The UNESCO prize is awarded for “outstanding contributions in promoting the inclusion and enhancing the lives of persons with disabilities through the application of digital solutions, resources and technologies”. It is handed out at the yearly UNESCO International Day of People with Disabilities ceremony. In 2016, nineteen countries submitted individual nominations and 23 countries presented nominations in the organizational category. The prize was finally attributed to Professor Alireza Darvishy from Switzerland and Tiflonexos Asociación Civil from Argentina. A sum of $40,000 was distributed equally between the winners.
The winner of the individual prize, Alireza Darvishy, was one of the first students with a disability to finish a PhD in computer science and the first and only professor of ICT Accessibility (at the Zurich University of Applied Sciences). He has established a competence centre for ICT Accessibility, the so-called ICT-Accessibility Lab, and helped more students with disabilities to get an education. Darvishy is also a board member of the Global Alliance on Accessible Technologies and Environments (GAATES). He has initiated and led many accessibility projects in the private sector, including the introduction of talking cash machines, accessible online banking and disability awareness training.
One of the many inventions he has contributed to is the “Ears and Eyes on Demand” application for smartphones.
The organization winner of 2016 was the Argentinian Tiflonexos Asociación Civil. Tiflonexos was created in 1999 by a group of blind friends and early adopters of technology and the internet, who wanted to exchange digital books and gain better access to information, culture and education. The group created an online collaborative free-access library for visually impaired people in Argentina. Now, Tiflolibros offers more than 50,000 titles, mostly in Spanish, to blind users around the world. The library’s community of users has grown to become a global network of information exchange, education and support.
Tiflonexos has also contributed to a reform of Argentina’s copyright law in 2007, and it was key in the adoption of the first United Nations treaty to promote access to books worldwide for visually impaired people.
From accessing knowledge to producing knowledge
Both, Tiflonexos and Darvishy, are working with the reality of everyday life of people with disabilities. They translate the theory of human rights and fundamental freedoms, such as the right to information and knowledge, into concrete action. As Tim Unwin discussed with RD, the need for developing both accessible and assistive technologies for people with disabilities is great in order to realize the rights of this group. And as VM argued in a previous post, access to information and knowledge by all is crucial to achieve a knowledge society.
However, what the winners of the UNESCO prize of 2016 actually are doing with their work is enabling people, not to get something, but to give something. By their work for accessible ICT they make it possible for people with disabilities to contribute to information production, to share their own knowledge and to make their experiences part of the knowledge society. And that is absolutely central to inclusion: it’s not enough to have access to others knowledge, you need to be able give others access to your knowledge as well. In an inclusive knowledge society everyone needs to be part of producing the knowledge.
This blog has been an experiment in illuminating disability inclusive ICT4D. Writing this blog we, the four students, have wished to make persons with disability more visible in the ICT4D discussions and in that way try to be “part of the solution”, as the aim was expressed in the very first post.
Now this assignment and experience have come to an end. And that is a good thing. Although this has been a rich experience, there are others out there to listen to, there is others’ knowledge to learn about.
We thank you for taking part in this journey with us!