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Universal Service Funds to assist persons with disabilities

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pproximately 15% of the world’s population or over one billion persons, experience some form of disability. In the Caribbean, some 1.3 million persons suffer a disability of some kind; around 250,000 persons have a significant disability. Persons with disabilities (PWDs) in the subregion face a range of physical, social, attitudinal and institutional barriers that prevent their full and effective participation in society on an equal basis with others. As a result, they experience poorer outcomes in health, education, employment, housing and other areas of life. Information and Communications Technologies (ICTs) can reduce the barriers that prevent persons with disabilities from participating actively in society and enjoying their rights. Rapid technological progress has made ICTs central to peoples’ lives and profoundly transformed the way we communicate with each other. However, developments in technology can exacerbate existing inequalities where countries do not take appropriate measures to ensure that all persons have access to them. Research indicates that access to the internet and other ICTs is not evenly enjoyed, and that

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many groups experience a digital divide, including persons with disabilities. Closing the digital divide for persons with disabilities relies on countries making these technologies available through appropriate financing mechanisms and programmes. One such mechanism already used widely in the Caribbean is Universal Service Funds (USFS). USFs aim to increase access to ICTs through contributions made by telecommunication providers. To understand how USFs can be better utilized to close the digital divide for persons with disabilities, and to promote the consideration of important recommendations, ECLAC Caribbean has embarked on a new study entitled `Using Universal Service Funds to increase access to technology for Persons with Disabilities in the Caribbean’. The project aligns with ECLAC's role of assisting Caribbean countries to meet their obligations under the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD). The CRPD - which has been ratified by 14 out of 16 Member States served by ECLAC Caribbean*

- requires countries to take appropriate measures to ensure to persons with disabilities access, on an equal basis with others, to ICTs, including assistive technologies. States that have ratified the CRPD agree to take measures to the maximum of their available resources to progressively achieve the full realization of the rights contained in the Convention. USFs are one mechanism that States can use to finance measures to ensure access to ICTs for persons with disabilities. Traditionally, USFs have been used to expand telephone and broadband networks into geographical areas that private telecommunication companies would otherwise view as unattractive for investment. However, advocates for PWDs have encouraged the redirection of these funds towards ensuring both universal service and access. Universal access recognizes that not only do remote, disadvantaged and vulnerable populations require an available connection to telecommunications, they must also be made accessible to persons with disabilities and other marginalized groups through the provision of the necessary skills, equipment and support.

Profile for ECLAC Caribbean

The Hummingbird - June 2019 [vol.6, n.6]  

The Hummingbird - June 2019 [vol.6, n.6]