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(Yonhap Interview) Put people first, not their disabilities, says ITU accessibility chief

2014/11/04 09:00

By Kang Yoon-seung

BUSAN, Nov. 4 (Yonhap) -- Andrea Saks has answered the phone for her deaf parents since she was 2. Her father, Andrew Saks, along with two other inventors, developed a telephone system that the deaf could use.

Saks, 67, now oversees accessibility at the International Telecommunications Union (ITU), and knows how important the "people" factor is in her work.

Her official title is chairman of ITU-T Joint Coordination Activity of Accessibility and Human Factors of the Telecommunication Standardization Bureau. In an interview with Yonhap News Agency on Monday, she emphasized placing a priority on "people" whenever mentioning the disabilities issue.

Andrea Saks, who oversees accessibility-related issues in the International Telecommunications Union (ITU), said on Nov. 3, 2014, that policymakers should always pay close attention to such factors, and bear in mind that they are "persons with disabilities," and not "disabled people." (Yonhap) Andrea Saks, who oversees accessibility-related issues in the International Telecommunications Union (ITU), said on Nov. 3, 2014, that policymakers should always pay close attention to such factors, and bear in mind that they are "persons with disabilities," and not "disabled people." (Yonhap)

"The reason I went to the ITU in 1991 was that I wanted to make sure that we could have standards and that everybody could use one protocol for deaf telephone services," Saks said.

She said her aim is to make technologies more accessible.

"In 1991, there was no awareness among engineers to include accessible features in standardization," she said, and her duty at the ITU is to make people "aware" of persons with disabilities in order to make necessary adjustments.

According to Saks, the ITU needs to take such issues into consideration by recognizing that problems may occur unexpectedly.

For example, spectrum allocations also must consider disability issues, as they may spark problems in hearing devices or medical instruments that use wireless technologies.

"If too much spectrum is given over to the mobile phone industry, we will have severe problems, (causing) interference and actually blockages preventing those devices from working," she said. "People want us to go to higher frequencies, but we can't. If these devices are worn on our bodies, it is dangerous."

   Another example is automated teller machines (ATMs).

When drive-in ATMs were first installed, banks did not consider adopting Braille keypads because they assumed that blind people cannot drive. Such a short-sighted decision, she said, shows how people are ignorant of the accessibility issue.

"A blind man had put up his hand to speak to this, and said, 'Excuse me, I am on my way to the airport, do I give my code to the taxi driver?' The non-blind banking executive did not think about that situation," she said. "We need to listen to persons with disabilities."

   As such, Saks said policymakers should always be aware and listen to people with disabilities before taking on any policies or measures.

"We need to work with persons with disabilities, listen to what they have to say, and to take into consideration what would it be like not to be able to hear and look at the Web. Put yourselves in other people's shoes and make a point of it," she said.

Saks added that South Korea has done a "wonderful" job in providing a friendly environment for persons with disabilities.

"This is one of the most accessible venues I have ever been in. They have made every effort to have people with disabilities be able to participate and be here," Saks said.

She also expressed her support for Lee Chae-sub, a South Korean specialist in IT convergence who was elected last month as the head of the ITU's Telecommunication Standardization Bureau.

"I have been working with Chae-sub for a long time," Saks said. "Chae-sub is very concerned about one area of persons with disabilities, and that is older people. We have more older people in the world than we ever had before. (But) they don't want to think of themselves as a person with disabilities."

   colin@yna.co.kr

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