Blind World Magazine

where do we look for information and assistance in order to source effective solutions?

December 23, 2005., Malta.

"We have been in this industry for ten years now... We do get disabled customers from time to time and we always did what was necessary to accommodate the individual needs on an ad hoc basis... we always did things this way."

These are common statements which people who argue in favour of greater accessibility must face on a regular basis. Many persons and organisations are aware of the big efforts going on at a national and international level in order to promote design-for-all principles. If they do not know them by this name, at least they know that issues relating to accessibility for many individuals including the elderly and disabled persons are increasingly cropping up in the most diverse issues.

It is not hard to identify the socially constructed disabling difficulties related to an impairment. Some examples are the need to enhance participation in the class room, improve employability, retain one's job or increase productivity. But where do we look for information and assistance in order to source effective solutions?

Back in 2000, the Malta Information Technology and Training Services Ltd. and the National Commission Persons with Disability sought to address this difficulty by founding the Foundation for Information Technology Accessibility (FITA). The mandate of the Foundation is 'To improve the quality of life of disabled persons through ICT'. This requires determination and resources to back it.

FITA held its 4th annual general meeting on 14th December 2005. Mr. David Spiteri Gingell, Chairperson, MITTS Ltd. and Mr. Joseph M. Camilleri, Chairperson, National Commission Persons with Disability delivered short speeches. These were followed by a presentation by Stanley M. Debono, Executive Coordinator, FITA on the operations of FITA.

A discussion followed, primarily focusing on the importance of a versatile Maltese Speech Synthesis in areas ranging from education to information services for visually impaired, elderly and also illiterate persons.

Those who resent change might not realise the benefits greater accessibility brings to the community as a whole. This accessibility enables many disabled persons to gain their rightful access to education and employment. This in turn leads to financial independence and reduced reliance on welfare services. Having more money to spend, they also increase market demand for goods and services. Many countries are realising that this makes business sense.

All these aspects, contribute towards a society where many organisation's activities whether internal or external are bound to involve disabled persons. The FITA funding partners, including the Gasan Group, Computime Ltd., Philip Toledo Ltd, Marsovin Ltd. and Megabyte Ltd uphold these values and support FITA through its many initiatives.

In the field of ICT, change is a constant, so management and technical people will realise the need to endorse accessibility and quality standards early on. However it is hard for non-disabled persons to fully appreciate the daily, practical issues relating to accessibility. Here is one area where FITA's services excel. Through a growing number of disabled persons with access to assistive ICT, we are now able to assess software and web products and services and report on where the accessibility barriers lie and what should be improved.

It is now time for more organisations to make use of these services. In the past years, some organisations identified the need for change and approached FITA directly. Others were referred to FITA's services because of legal issues concerning the Equal Opportunities Act (2000) or market requirements. Whatever the reason, it is important to evaluate disability issues and concerns early on within the planning stage of projects and initiatives. Delaying the implementation of accessibility measures merely raises costs in terms of time and finances.

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