Minister Conference in Vienna: a huge gap between life and learning!

I have seldom heard so many fine words about accessibility and universal design. But here are some of my impressions from the Minister conference, as a blind person.

Story by: Morten Tollefsen - 01.12.2008

It is both exciting and gratifying that universal design and ICT is now the focus of growing attention. The Minister conference in Vienna was therefore a positive initiative. However, the implementation of this conference shows that we have a very long way to go before accessibility for everyone is a reality,  something much more than party speeches and fine visions. To put it bluntly, I felt discriminated against in this conference, and I know that I am not the most over sensitive of people in this respect.

I describe below a little of what I reacted against. This is not a summary of the conference. It can be found at:


When we signed in we were presented with a bag full of paper! For me,  as a blind participant,  there was little to entertain. In the stack of paper I found a CD, and  assumed quite naturally that all the information was provided here. The CD was promptly put in the PC: and found to include a report in German and English in PDF format. The PDF file was legible but  difficult to read with a synthesized voice. Many hyphenated words are pronounced so oddly that one soon loses the thread.

Yes, yes, I thought, this was bad!


I was given a programme in Braille. This gave the times, but the lecturers, titles of lectures etc. were omitted.

Yes, yes, I thought, this was bad!


The conference opened with "cool" music. A video was shown on the screen. Since this movie was the opening for the conference it was probably impressive, but I heard only the music. No visual interpretation here, no!

Yes, yes, I thought, this was bad!

The first lecture

In German, or in French was it? I understood in any case nothing. After a few more lectures we learned that it was possible to get headphones and a receiver to have the speeches translated . No one had told us about this, and had I not had a companion, I would have missed much more!

Yes, yes, I thought, this was bad!


I was not the only disabled participant. In fact, there were quite a few of us, and many disabled people would require a PC or other electronic equipment to write notes. We searched and searched, but no power was to be found. The only place they had arranged for the use of PC was reserved for ministers.

Yes, yes, I thought, this was bad!


Many lecturers showed movies in connection with the lectures (two out of three speeches showed a film as a conclusion). I learned nothing from these films of course. No one read their slides but often said "point 3 is important", "see the table"; and there were amusing pictures that people laughed at. The lectures were not available online, but might become available later.

Yes, yes, I thought, this was bad!


The Exhibition Hall was not organized at all,  there was for example no information provided in Braille about what you might find there. It was just not possible to get an overview, and the catering was not blind-friendly.

Yes, yes, I thought, this was bad!

Information material

In the exhibition hall there were different stands. Brochures were being handed out everywhere. But how many of the exhibitors had Braille or electronic editions? Probably some, but I did not find any.

Yes, yes, I thought, this was bad!

To hold a conference like this and then set such a bad example is not progress! I had expected something else, but on the other hand, I have seen this many, many times before! It is needlessly stupid, discriminatory, unfair, ... But first and foremost, it shows that even those who promote and speak enthusiastically about accessibility do not take it seriously.

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