The 3rd of December marks the International Day of Persons with Disability and the start of Disability Week 2017. To mark this day, on Friday, 24 November, 2017, Hon. MEP Marlene Mizzi hosted the public conference Accessibility Without Discrimination at the Phoenicia Hotel, supported by the S&D group in the European Parliament. The Malta Communications Authority (MCA) and the Commission for the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) helped organise the conference.
FITA is supportive of the great emphasis on ICT accessibility and the derivative life changing possibilities, covered during this conference. Persons with disabilities have the same civil, political, social and economic rights like everyone else, but due to the increase use of digital technologies in the public and private administration often they cannot access those rights. Strong policies incentivising the use of accessible digital technologies so as to provide easier access to services, are key in helping persons with disabilities participate equally in society and in the economy.
The talks and presentations targeted employers and employees alike, as well as persons with disability who are faced with daily accessibility challenges. It brought together a variety of stakeholders, government policymakers and civil society organisations in order to discuss this important issue.
The conference raised awareness on the subject of digitalisation of the economy and the society. The development of eGovernment, a Digital Single Market and smart cities has created millions of opportunities for citizens and businesses, and yet, people with disabilities in Europe are still excluded or prevented from using basic digital products and services due to a lack of accessibility or knowledge requirements. This exclusion also makes it hard for people with disability to access information and voice their concerns on this subject.
Hon. Anthony Agius Decelis, Parliamentary Secretary for Persons with Disability and Active Ageing, as well as Hon. Silvio Schembri, Parliamentary Secretary for Financial Services, Digital Economy and Innovation, delivered talks during this event. Ms Siobahn Long, Manager at Enable Ireland, delivered a presentation about the work being carried out by Enable Ireland. This is a non-profit state-funded organisation that provides free services to children and adults with disabilities and their families in Ireland. Ms. Vickie Gauci, an Occupational Therapist by profession, who is reading for a PHD at the University of Leeds, shared parts of her research on on disability activism, assistive technology and universal design. Ms Aimee Cassar, assistant HR manager at KPMG Crimsonwing (Malta) Ltd. described how the company’s policies reflect a culture that values diversity. She explained how policies are designed not specifically for a person with disability but for all employees, but made to be inclusive. Thus addressing parents with children, people who had temporary accidents and needed flexible hours or teleworking arrangements. This way, it is not a single employee who benefits but many others, especially those with hidden disabilities. She ended her presentation by outlining that their experience is that this not only benefited the organisation’s culture as a whole, but also clients and their business.
At the end of the conference, Hon. MEP Marlene Mizzi, summarised the key points highlighted through by this event, and emphasised the need for greater collaboration in our efforts to identify important issues and how to address them. “The rampant, world-wide growth of the digital economy within an increasingly digital society can only be described as breathtaking. It is positive, strong and moving at hurricane speed, and yet it tends to overlook the needs and predicaments of those who are more vulnerable in society, particularly persons with disabilities who must often feel they are caught in a technological cul-de-sac to the detriment of social justice and fair play. It is our duty to turn this alley into a highway of opportunities for persons with disabilities, giving them the chance not only to catch up but also to play their part in the vast road network of this dynamic digital society.” said Hon. Marlene Mizzi.
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