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Universal Service for Persons with Disabilities: A Global Survey of Policy Interventions and Good Practices

Posted by Nirmita Narasimhan at Dec 27, 2011 07:15 AM |
The Global Initiative for Inclusive Information and Communication Technologies and the Centre for Internet and Societies in cooperation with the Hans Foundation have published the Universal Service for Persons with Disabilities: A Global Survey of Policy Interventions and Good Practices. The book consists of a Foreword by Axel Leblois, an Introduction and four chapters. Deepti Bharthur, Axel Leblois and Nirmita Narasimhan have contributed to the chapters.


Universal Service definitions have been developed by 125 countries and are the foundation for policies and programs ensuring that telecommunications are available to all categories of population. Universal service funds are the main vehicle used to fund those programs, primarily addressing imbalances such as lack of availability of services in rural areas. While geographic coverage has vastly improved over the past decade with wireless infrastructure, the scope of Universal Service has expanded to include other categories of underserved populations.

Among those, persons with disabilities and senior citizens, who represent 15% of the world population[1] are an increasing concern for legislators and regulators. Basic accessibility features for public telephone booths, fixed line or wireless handsets, customer services in alternate formats such as Braille, or assistive services such as relay services for hard of hearing or deaf persons are in fact not implemented in a majority countries.[2]

To address those issues, several countries have expanded the scope of their national definition of Universal Service Obligation to include persons with disabilities allowing programs promoting the accessibility of information and communication technologies to be covered by Universal Service Funds.

The adoption of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities by over 150 countries since March 31st, 2007 will likely accelerate this trend: States Parties have an obligation to ensure that Information and Communication Technologies and Services are made accessible to persons with disabilities. This can be done by aligning the definition of Universal Service Obligation with article 9 of the Convention and expanding the charter of Universal Service Funds to cover programs promoting accessibility for persons with disabilities. This report is the first attempt to document how Universal Service definitions and related policies and programs have been implemented by various countries to ensure that persons with disabilities have full access, on an equal basis with others,to telecommunication services.G3ict would like to express its sincere appreciation to the Center for Internet and Society for its support of this project, to Nirmita Narasimhan for researching and editing this report;to the International Telecommunication Union for providing references and helping identify countries to be surveyed, and to the Hans Foundation for funding the print version of the report. Promoting universal service for persons with disabilities can affect positively the lives of millions of users around the world. We hope that this report may serve as a useful reference for policy makers, operators, organizations of persons with disabilities, and as a framework for good practice sharing among countries currently implementing the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

Axel Leblois
Executive Director
G3ict – Global Initiative for Inclusive ICTs


The advent of the Internet and accessible information and communication technologies (ICT) has opened up exciting possibilities and opportunities for persons with disabilities.The United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (the ‘UNCRPD’)3 has explicitly recognized the right of persons with disabilities to seek, receive and impart information on an equal basis with others4 and has placed specific obligations on member states to ensure that all ICT based facilities and services (which include telecommunications services) must be made available and accessible to all. To this end, member states are required to formulate and implement appropriate laws and policies at national, regional and global levels. In an age where almost all spheres of life are inextricably woven with and dependent on ICT, Article 9 of the UNCRPD on Accessibility is possibly one of the most powerful and critical tools in the hands of policy makers to ensure that persons with disabilities are assured of basic human rights such as education, health, employment and access to information and participation.While the lack of awareness amongst governments is undeniably a serious impediment to implementing accessible ICT in any country, an equally serious and perhaps more realistic problem is the lack of resources which is plaguing many countries, especially developing nations. The fact that governments are already struggling to ensure basic human rights for all citizens by judiciously dividing their limited resources for the whole gamut of needs makes it difficult for them to outlay separate and substantial budgets which may be required for implementing ICT accessibility. In such a scenario it becomes very important to look around and identify sources of funding, new or existing, which can be leveraged by governments to fulfill their obligation towards making all ICT based applications and services accessible and promoting assistive technologies for persons with disabilities.

This report aims to highlight the extreme suitability of leveraging the Universal Service Fund (USF) to implement accessibility and assistive technologies in telecommunications. It examines the evolution of the concept of USF, its minimum mandate and scope, funding sources, as well as project implementation mechanisms and showcases countries which are using the USF to fund accessibility projects through policies and programmes.

[1].WHO Global Report on Disability, June 2011 -

[2].CRPD Progress Report on ICT Accessibility – 2010 by G3ict -

  1. Click here for the Braille format
  2. Download the Daisy version here
  3. Download the book here PDF [302 KB]
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Nirmita Narasimhan