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ICT and Accessibility

comic of two laptops talking

Per Wikipedia, “Information and communications technology or (ICT) is extensional term for information technology (IT) that stresses the role of unified communications and the integration of telecommunications (telephone lines and wireless signals), computers as well as necessary enterprise software, middleware, storage, and audio-visual systems, which enable users to access, store, transmit, and manipulate information.”[2]

The term ICT is also used to refer to the convergence of audio-visual and telephone networks with computer networks through a single cabling or link system. Convergence was more of a financial issue when storage capability was at a premium. Some interesting statistics about the evolution of technological capacity:

The world’s technological capacity to store information grew from 2.6 (optimally compressed) exabytes in 1986 to 15.8 in 1993, over 54.5 in 2000, and to 295 (optimally compressed) exabytes in 2007, and some 5 zettabytes in 2014.[17][18]

These numbers are dry and hard to fathom on their own. Explained another way, this is the informational equivalent to 1.25 stacks of CD-ROM from the earth to the moon in 2007, and the equivalent of 4,500 stacks of printed books from the earth to the sun in 2014. The world’s technological capacity to compute information with humanly guided general-purpose computers grew from 3.0 × 10^8 MIPS in 1986, to 6.4 x 10^12 MIPS in 2007.

An accessible ICT product or service is one which can be used by all its intended users, taking into account their differing capabilities. A person’s ability to use technology may be impaired due to various physical, sensory, emotional or cognitive disabilities.

Accessibility features have been around for a long time to a greater or lesser degree, and for those who do not require them, sometimes they are hiding in plain sight. One common example of an accessibility feature that has been available for many years is the small tactile node, a “dot” or small “dash” found on the “5” key on most device keypads. (You can check to see if the keypad you are now using has one.) By finding the “5” key by touch, anyone can locate the other numeric keys without having to see them.

At this time in the evolution of digital media, it is entirely possible to design technology so that persons with disabilities can use it. As I’ve mentioned before, one definition of “Accessibility” is the extent to which products, systems, services, environments and facilities can be used by people from a population with the widest range of characteristics and capabilities to achieve a specified goal in a specified context of use. Again a mouthful, but a pretty precise definition.

For so many technologies and in a variety of contexts of use, ICTs can be designed and developed to meet the needs of all users. Other types of accessible ICTs include: Assistive technologies (AT) such as hearing aids, text-to-speech readers and large-key keyboards that can enable a person to interact with or use a particular ICT.