Twelve years ago to the exact day tomorrow, I was invited to attend and speak at the UN 2006 IDPD (International Day of People with Disabilities).

The theme of that year was E-Accessibility.

Kofi Annan, Secretary-General at the time, said in a statement, “ Access to information and communication technologies creates opportunities for all people, perhaps none more so than persons with disabilities,” and “ As the development of the Internet and these technologies takes their needs more fully into account, the barriers of prejudice, infrastructure and inaccessible formats need no longer stand in the way of participation.”

That was on the eve of the passing of the UN Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities.

At the time, as far as technology was concerned, the Web was it.

Within the past twelve short years, technology has taken a quantum leap. First was mobile technology. It completely changed how the world communicates. Then we experienced the emergence of new infrastructure technology, such as Cloud, IoT (Internet of Things) which, coupled with mobile, makes information easily available, anywhere, anytime. Now we are seeing new personalized experience technology such as Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality being integrated into gaming and various industry solutions. In almost all cases, these new technologies are underpinned by one very new and very disruptive technology: Artificial Intelligence (AI).

While the definition of Artificial Intelligence continues to evolve and the debate of its power rages on, there is a consensus around the world that the impact of this technology will be profound for generations to come. It is therefore so important that the entire society, from government to business, to nonprofits, NGOs, academia and citizens of all types and all abilities to participate in understanding and shaping the future direction of technology such as AI.

I am very excited that the UN, as the global unifying organization, recognizes that we have to think about the impact of technology very differently and we have to push beyond just having access, as was declared in 2006, but to promote “Empowering persons with disabilities and ensuring inclusiveness and equality”. And that there is an effort, this year, to directly state that “this theme focuses on the empowering persons with disabilities for the inclusive, equitable and sustainable development envisaged in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development“, key theme of 2018 IDPD.

I am also very honored that I will have the opportunity to be the moderator for the Smart Inclusion panel at this year’s IDPD. I will be inviting my panelists, which include an innovative technologist, an artistic director, a PhD engineer entrepreneur and a UN ICT policy advisor, to share not just their expertise and experience but their perspective on how human and technology interaction can be leveraged toward more inclusive communities. The panel discussion will “explore concrete strategies and policy proposals to develop an integrated approach for smart and inclusive cities that are accessible to all; recommendations for actions and partnerships at the global and local levels for the creation of an enabling environment to ensure that cities benefit all people, including persons with disabilities; innovative solutions to challenges that future cities will face in making infrastructure, social services, information and safe environments accessible for all; sharing of expertise and experience on how cities can foster inclusive urban planning for all by using innovation and technology, including AI. How can all people benefit? The panel will also map the way forward for evidence-based research on smart and inclusive urban planning”.

Being invited to participate in UN events like this gives me tremendous pride and hope, as even though the journey of making technology accessible or inclusive is ever challenging, if we can have countries, citizens come together year after year to focus on this, we will move the needle collectively, driving towards Authentic Inclusion and creating a better future for all.

If you are interested in this UN panel discussion, please follow us on the live webcast starting at 5 pm on December 3, 2018.