A Cloud for Global Good: A roadmap to a trusted, responsible, and inclusive cloud
Cloud computing offers significant benefits for people of all ages and abilities. It can empower people with visual, learning, age- related, mobility, hearing and speech disabilities to learn more effectively, engage and collaborate with others more easily, and express themselves more clearly. Cloud-based technologies such as natural language processing, AI and machine learning can deliver assistive technologies such as audio captioning and speech and image recognition. And because the cloud is a repository for custom settings, people can access information and services formatted to meet their preferences wherever they go, on almost any device.
Computers and the internet have also created opportunities for people with disabilities to pursue an education, participate in the workforce, access government services and engage in society. But a recent World Bank study found that people with disabilities are still significantly more likely to be unemployed and experience poverty. Cloud computing can help change this. Accessible cloud- based technologies can ensure that people with disabilities have access to services and content in today’s increasingly digital world. It can also power new services that provide greater independence and mobility for people with a wide range of disabilities. Many of these innovations will also help people remain productive and independent as they age.
There are more than 1 billion people around the world with disabilities. Often, they face significant barriers when it comes to employment, education, healthcare, transportation, access to technology and government services, and more. Barriers to education for children with disabilities are particularly harmful because they have a lifelong impact on employability and contribute to high poverty rates for adults with disabilities.
Although cloud computing already offers significant accessibility opportunities, people with disabilities are often the last to gain access to the benefits of technology-based innovation. Many cities are using cloud technologies to create new urban experiences, yet most of these “smart cities” are not fully accessible to people with disabilities, resulting in a growing digital divide. In rural areas, lack of connectivity can limit access to cloud-based accessibility solutions.
For people with disabilities, cloud computing can provide capabilities that improve access to education, employment, government services and rich engagement in society. To ensure that the benefits and opportunities provided by cloud computing are available to people with disabilities, governments should consider the following steps:
Procure accessible technologies. When public agencies purchase and use accessible technologies, access to public information and workforce participation by people with disabilities increases. By incorporating accessibility criteria such as ETSI EN 301 549 into procurement policies and requesting detailed compliance statements from technology and solutions providers, governments can create economic incentives for businesses to invest in more innovative accessible products. But although the United States and many European governments require federal agencies to procure accessible technologies, just one-third of countries that have signed the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities have enacted similar policies. All governments should sign the Global Initiative for Inclusive Information and Communication Technologies (G3ict) charter and integrate accessibility into their procurement procedures.
Promote globally harmonized standards.The speed of innovation in the technology sector can outpace legislation meant to encourage accessibility and promote cloud services. Global standards such ETSI EN 301 549 and ISO/IEC 40500 (W3C Web Content Accessibility Guidelines, known as WCAG 2.0) are regularly updated and thus better option than laws enshrining particular features or services and excluding others. By adopting public procurement policies based on these standards and requiring accessible technology from their suppliers, governments can create incentives for businesses to develop innovative, accessible products. These incentives are most effective when they are based on global standards that create unified digital markets.
Make smart cities inclusive. As cities embrace the cloud to create new urban experiences, they should be inclusive and not leave people with disabilities behind. Governments can demonstrate digital leadership and make a strong commitment to inclusion for all by implementing ICT accessibility standards and procurement policies. As civic leaders work to bring connectivity to rural communities, these same strategies can help ensure that people with disabilities can enjoy the same benefits from cloud technologies as their urban neighbors.
Embrace innovation. When governments try to solve complex challenges with obsolete technologies, people with disabilities are often left behind. Governments should adopt policies that encourage civil society, city leaders and educators to work with the technology industry to create new solutions that are based on cloud technologies and encourage their use to deliver education and public services.
Make e-government services accessible. In addition to procuring accessible technologies, governments should require documents, presentations, web content, applications and software solutions to be created and maintained in a manner consistent with applicable accessibility guidelines. This ensures that people of all abilities stay informed, participate fully in civic life, and take advantage of public-sector benefits, opportunities and employment.
Empower teachers. Teachers need to understand the value of accessible technology in the classroom. Education authorities should promote awareness and provide skills training to help teachers understand how to use new technologies to improve learning in the classroom. Most technology tools that are used in schools — such as computers, tablets and PCs — have features and support personalized settings that can help students access material and collaborate with peers, vastly improving accessibility in education. Skills training should help teachers take advantage of these accessibility features. Enabling teachers to create learning materials that are accessible to students with disabilities is also essential. When teachers understand how to adjust curriculum and content to the unique needs of their students, schools can successfully serve the needs of students with disabilities.
Evidence and further reading
Global Initiative for Inclusive Information and Communication Technologies (G3ict) charter: Promoting Global Digital Inclusion through ICT Procurement Policies & Accessibility Standards
Australian government announcement: Federal government will adopt the European standard for the procurement of accessible ICT (EN 301 549)
Microsoft white paper: Accessibility and the Cloud
Microsoft white paper: Accessibility Requirements for Public Procurement of ICT in Europe
Microsoft On the Issues blog: Creating incentives for digital inclusion: Microsoft announces support for G3ict charter for accessible technology