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Andrea Saks

Andrea Saks is a known advocate for Telecommunications and ICTs for persons with disabilities.

 

 

 

She grew up in a family of two deaf parents and assisted them from an early age as their interface with the hearing world. She was responsible for making doctors’ appointments, arranging guests’ visits and other appointments by using the telephone which was then inaccessible to her family without her.

In the early 1960’s her father, the late Andrew Saks, the late Robert Weitbrecht and the late James C. Marsters were the first pioneers of deaf telecommunications. Deaf themselves, they created the first deaf telecommunications network. They used a specialized modem that they designed called a Phonetype and surplus donated teletypewriters/teleprinters as the printing device. These devices were the precursors of textphones. This was before email, SMS, instant messaging and today’s real-time text messaging. The original technique is still in use today.

She took her role to the next level when she relocated from the US to the UK in 1972 to promote the use of textphones in the UK. She worked with the British Government Post Office (then the regulator of UK telecommunications) and was granted a license for connection of text telephones on the regular telephone network. She was able to successfully lobby the US FCC to allow the first transatlantic textphone conversation over the voice telephone network (1975). It was to be a system that was spread throughout the world. There was a problem in that many variations of text telephony appeared in other countries and were not compatible with each other. There was no interoperability. After having great hope that they too could use the phone like other people internationally, deaf people became isolated much as they had been before. This time they were isolated to their respective countries. There were no international standards for textphones.

This problem prompted her first involvement with ITU standardization activity in 1991 and her role has ever since increased in scope. Self-funded, she currently attends many ITU-T study group and focus group meetings promoting the inclusion of accessibility functionality in systems being standardized by ITU, such as multimedia conferencing, cable, IPTV, NGN and cloud computing. Though she originally began work with deaf-related issues, she now represents any and all persons with disabilities.

She was largely responsible for driving the first ITU-wide Accessibility resolution, which was passed at the 2010 ITU Plenipotentiary meeting. She currently is the convener of the ITU Joint Coordination Activity on Accessibility and Human Factors (JCA-AHF) that performs as a bridge on accessibility matters among the three ITU sectors, as well as the coordinator of the Internet Governance Forum’s Dynamic Coalition on Accessibility and Disability (DCAD), which organizes workshops on accessibility for the Internet Governance Forum.

She continues to visit ITU Study Groups and Focus Groups to insure that accessibility features are included in all standardization activities in line with the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities

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