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Advancing Disability Empowerment Through Technological Innovation: Insights from a Collaborative Webinar

7 December 2023

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Singapore/Manila/London/Dubai, 7 December 2023: In observance of the International Day of Persons with Disabilities, the Asian Development Bank (ADB), Economic Research Institute for ASEAN and East Asia (ERIA), Google, International Labour Organization (ILO), and the Tech for Good Institute jointly hosted a webinar centred on advancing the empowerment of individuals with disabilities through technology. The session, titled ‘Empowering People with Disabilities through Technology,’ resonates with this year's theme for the International Day of Persons with Disabilities Day (PwDs)—'United in action to rescue and achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) for, with and by persons with disabilities.’

The transformative impact of technology on the lives of individuals with disabilities cannot be overstated. It serves as a catalyst, offering avenues for greater inclusion in the workforce, enhanced access to education, and the ability to lead more autonomous lives. ERIA’s report underlined a stark reality: within the 472 million working-age individuals with disabilities in Asia and the Pacific, the likelihood of securing employment is two to six times lower compared to their peers without disabilities. However, technology emerges as a pivotal tool in reshaping this narrative.

With more than 100 attendees from the Asia-Pacific region, the discussions during the session explored multifaceted approaches directed at empowering PwDs through technological innovations.

Juan Magdaraog, Consultant and SEADS Website Lead at ADB, initiated the dialogue by shedding light on SEADS’ efforts. He emphasised the integration of an accessibility menu on the ADB SEADS webpage, stressing the crucial role that technology-driven interventions play in closing the gap for PwDs and enhancing their inclusivity.

Following this, Darren Chua, an International Speaker and Empowerment Coach from the Mindset Transformation Clinic, underscored the significance of mindset shifts among individuals with disabilities. Overcoming the fear of technology and prioritising community-oriented solutions emerged as pivotal strategies in empowering this demographic.

Cathy Holloway, Cofounder and Academic Director of the Global Disability Innovation Hub, and Professor at the Interaction Centre, University College London, delved into the intricate relationship between technology and human rights. While acknowledging the potential benefits of technology, she cautioned about the risks stemming from unclear regulations, especially concerning artificial intelligence (AI). She also noted the uneven access to technology among PwD across various countries.

Stefan Tromel, Senior Disability Specialist at the International Labour Organization, highlighted the opportunities presented by the digital economy for PwD. He emphasised the potential creation of new jobs within the green economy but also underscored the existing gap between skills and job requirements. Tromel advocated for heightened efforts from companies to employ PwDs, citing the positive impact on work environments.

Ryan Rahardjo, Head of Public Affairs for Southeast Asia and South Asia Frontier at Google, discussed Google’s efforts to enhance product accessibility. He showcased the establishment of Google Accessibility Discovery Centre in London, focusing on innovation in this domain for Google users. Rahardjo also addressed AI-powered tools designed to benefit both individuals and communities, while acknowledging the challenges related to digital literacy and socialisation to increase awareness of Google’s accessibility features.  

Jamie Ko, Director of Regional Public Affairs and Policy at Grab, shared insights into Grab's initiatives targeting consumers and service providers alike. Ko highlighted how their platform has facilitated individuals with disabilities to access work opportunities, accommodating various forms of disabilities among their service providers. She stressed the need to customise products to suit the needs and conditions of PwD users and to extend these digital economy opportunities to the community level.  

Moderating this enriching discussion was Meredith Wyse, Senior Social Development Specialist at the Human and Social Development Office, Sectors Group, ADB. Wyse guided the conversation towards actionable insights aimed at fostering an inclusive tech-driven landscape for people with disabilities on a global scale.


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