9th Annual INformation Solution (ISN) Forum

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Preety Kumar panelist at the G3ict World Bank: Making Information Accessible.

The World Bank is a vital source of financial and technical assistance to developing countries around the world. With the recent Worldwide success of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, the World Bank's Enterprise Architecture organization believes this is the time to impel the information accessibility agenda. In an effort to raise awareness a panel of Accessibility Experts were invited to speak at the World Bank's annual Information Solution Network (ISN) Forum on May 27-28. The ISN Forum is the annual learning event for the network of Information and Technology (IT) professionals in the World Bank Group. This event is in its 9th year and was attended by several hundred IT professionals from Washington, D.C. and the Bank's country offices located around the globe.

The two-hour panel was a huge success. Aileen Morse, the Bank's Chief Enterprise Architect kicked off the panel discussion by challenging each person in the audience to make a commitment to address accessibility in just one area of their work. As the audience began to ponder that challenge, Axel Leblois, Executive Director of G3ict, the Global Initiative for Inclusive ICTs, showed that making information accessible plays an important role in inclusive development. What we learned is that making information accessible to people with disabilities enables information accessibility for everyone. James Thurston, Senior Strategist, Global Policy and Standard from Microsoft discussed how in a study sponsored by Microsoft 57% of computer users are likely to benefit from accessibility.

Often technology solutions are developed for one group of people, but end up helping others. John Evans from IBM Worldwide Human Ability and Accessibility Center talked to Bank staff about the SpokenWeb project which is a world wide web in the telecom network, where people can host and browse VoiceSites and conduct business transactions, all just by talking over the existing telephone network. The Spokenweb project was a pilot effort conducted by IRL with the Indian government to implement a kiosk-based version of the Spokenweb prototype in a rural Indian village. Using the kiosk, villagers were able to create VoiceSites in their native dialect which allowed them to conduct transactions easily and effectively. It was discovered that SpokenWeb also helped those who were blind or had low vision, and those of low literacy to conduct transactions.

The rapid convergence of devices that can access the Internet is another reason web developers should not assume the current path of communication between input and output as the only way of interaction. GE identified that their website was not accessible and many of its targeted customers were not able to access their content. As explained by Preety Kumar with help from Deque Systems GE revamped its website and made it accessible to everyone.

The ISN Forum Accessibility Panel dialogue was very successful and clearly identified information accessibility as a priority in the Bank's work and will serve as a spring board to facilitate these important discussions within the industry.