The World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS)
Kram Convention Center, Tunis, November 16 - 18

Sylvia Caras, PhD

This is the second phase of WSIS. The first phase took place in Geneva hosted by the Government of Switzerland from 10 to 12 December 2003, where 175 countries adopted a Declaration of Principles and Plan of Action. My notes from that meeting are here and the formal documents are at

I am attending two meetings and taking some vacation time and have separated out most of the travelogue notes into a separate file.

The WSIS site is a 15 minute ride from the beach hotel area where I am staying and there are busses every hour or so making a loop. Taxis are required to stop about half a mile away and a small bus shuttles to the entrance, where there is security checking badges electronically and metal detectors checking all else. The site is huge and noisy and I’d guess I walked two miles from entrance and back. The corridors are cold, the meeting rooms are hot, in one section there’s a strong smell of new paint.

Ideas I have had tickler notes about for the last two years:

expert committees bring vision and wisdom from diverse perspectives

bottom up can be from a very narrow bottom

there is a concern that intellectual property rights contradict participatory and open processes, freedom of knowledge, and free software, as well as restricting access for those with reading difficulties

pluralism, democracy and transparency are essential preconditions for any new global organization or system

universal design, the social model of difference, using every opportunity to broaden the mandate, make difference visible at every level, use the media not to emphasize pity but rather strength and contribution

telecommunication is a basic social and economic necessity

universal access has three key components

availability - is it there?

accessibility - can everyone use it?

affordability - can everyone afford to use it?

the lack of affordable and universal access threatens the ability of those without access to fully participate in ongoing development opportunities

meshes not hub-and-spoke is another concept for how to organize internet routers and transfer information (WiFi does this now); it’s even more resistant to failure and tampering since other nodes aren’t dependent on a node in a mesh at all. 20 years ago, Marilyn Ferguson, in the Aquarian Conspiracy, used the image of community developing like a seine, a fisherman’s net, each knot linked to the others and the net surviving despite losing many knots and gaining many large holes. Meshing sounds to me like the same concept.

International cooperation is an important part of the UN Convention on Human Rights for people with disabilities which is being developed. A way to extend access, for instance to indigenous populations in remote areas, is to ensure international cooperation in the standards and maintenance of the ICT backbone as well as insuring that new building and reconstruction includes ICT access.

"Our vision of the 'Information Society' is grounded in the Right to Communicate, as a means to enhance human rights and to strengthen the social, economic and cultural lives of people and communities. Crucial to this is that civil society organisations come together to help build an information society based on principles of transparency, diversity, participation and social and economic justice, and inspired by equitable gender, cultural and regional perspectives."

A two day Global Disability Forum was organized by the DAISY consortium (text readable formats) and held on the 15th and 18th. This first day the room is full; some seats are unusable because they are in the direct path of hot bright lights for the cameras.

I have said hello to Hiroshi, Monthian, Kicki, Linda, Judy Brewer, Aarti, and Kohe (user from Japan who presented) - I know these people from the Geneva meeting and from the AdHoc meetings.

There is smoke everywhere. The walkways are full of people searching for a room or chatting. It is hard to navigate. There is no toilet paper in the ladies room. A bottle of water which cost $.20 at the supermarket yesterday cost $2.00 here at the conference.

The only lunch food available was packaged sandwiches from vending machines or a kiosk, and a fixed price $30 buffet.

Instead I went to a Freedom of Expression session. I was the only one in the room waiting and staring at six black executive chairs and six microphones and I wondered if this was the reality of free communication, an empty room. I thought of Satre. Eventually two statements were read and the session was canceled in protest of how it is perceived that the Tunisian government is refusing transparency or criticism. I chatted for a bit with a journalist from the Philippines; we agreed on how to define and address the world’s problems, so that felt like a very nice connection.

I stopped by a session about encouraging women to use technology and chatted with an Indian woman living in London and doing a project in rural Pakistan who used to live in Los Gatos (Silicon Valley) about 30 miles from me.

I took the conference bus back to my hotel, over an hour from meeting room to hotel room and am planning to leave sufficiently early in the morning.

(By the fifth night I felt my internal clock was pretty much adjusted. The rule of thumb I know is it takes a day per hour of time change to adjust.)

However in the morning, a bus arrived within a minute of my getting to the hotel stop and went straight to the site. Even with the long security line -- badges checked electronically, some asked for passports, carried stuff through x-ray, people through metal detector, wands – I was in my seat at the UNESCO session on disability 30 minutes early. However, soon there was a familiar face, Ambassador Gallegos, and we talked about the convention progress. He felt the US obstacles were not from State but from Justice. He advised that the IDC should talk with Don McKay before January, and that definitely the Convention would be finished in the two, January and August, 2006 sessions, that monitoring is *the* issue, and that at the end final issues can become contentious. He also noted that he felt his own moral responsibility, why he is here now presenting, and that he has learned a lot about disability and about himself. His presentation was strong and supportive. There was one translation channel for the session, so the one Arabic speaker was translated into French, and the French speakers into English, and lots of static masked the words. Hiroshi also spoke, mentioned users of psychiatry, there was a presentation on autism. Kahn, UNESCO, noted that there are 600 million pwd and asked, should they be denied, should access by denied the knowledge to lead a dignified life. There are about 60 in this room, overflowing, and stifling, the noise from the corridor is as loud as if in the room itself, and the molded plastic chairs become hard by the end of the day. Gallegos noted that access to ICT is fundamental to the Convention, encouraged ICT collaborations and public private partnerships.

People here are pronouncing WSIS as wi (as in with) and then sis (as in sister, wisis; and WGIG becomes wigig, ... which makes me wonder if, if "wi" is short for "world," then WNUSP might be pronounced winusp, instead of what I’ve been saying - double you NUSP.

There’s considerable discussion in many sessions about the conclusion yesterday from PrepCom 3. The US feels it’s a win; business feels not adequately included in the set of multistakeholder partnerships, and no one is sure what the forum convening will actually be, though it has been decided it will be in Greece using the Olympics venue they created, in the first half of 2006, will have a secretariat appointed by the UN, has a five year authorization for an evolutionary process, will be open to all stakeholders. The multi-stakeholder idea can be seen as a cooperative process of common principles and coordinated resources leading to the emergence of internet governance. In the meantime, ICANN will continue and IG is not on the forum agenda.


46% of the developed world and 5% of the developing world have internet access

Monitoring is perceived as a way to enhance networking.

Multi-stakeholder partnerships tend to depoliticize the agenda.

Re one voice, there isn’t one civil society, just as there isn’t one disability group or one group of People Who - civil society is not a homogeneous mass, nor is disability or psychosocial disability.

Process of consensus/convergence contrasted to process of negotiation

Enabling platforms.

Contextualize ICT.

Kofi Annan stopped by.

The ICT 4 all exhibition is organized: e-Solutions Quarter, Inclusive Access Quarter, Development and Partnership Quarter, Research and Innovation Quarter, and National Pavilion. USAID has materials and lots of familiar brand names - Intel, Sun, ... It’s a bit startling to see in one place in the Japan country stand so many known items, and I was able to test the keyboard of a laptop I’ve been interested in. There are lots of printed materials and information on CDs and some candies and none of the things I’m used to, pens, post-its, ..


By now I was overloaded and exited for the transfer busses. They were lined up as far as my eye could see and now that the full conference has begun, the routes were shorter - mine now has only five stops. I am last, longer to my room, shorter to the meetings.

On the bus I was talking with a business/policy person about accessible technology and the high costs of text readers. "Yes, the market is small," he said. I started thinking about enlarging the market and began to wonder if people who like to be available and connected 24/7 might like to hear their email, maybe while driving, from a cell phone, perhaps speak a reply that could be sent or stored. I know there is already dictation hardware; I don’t know if it digitizes. It seems to me there might be a market. I was thinking about talking books. I’m not sure if their origin was for people with reading-related disabilities, but they are used by many to optimize driving time and entertain passengers.

BBC: Mexico is the world’s largest consumer of Coca Cola.

It’s raining, and a strong wind makes my small umbrellas useless but there is a bus waiting and I don’t get very wet. The entrance road has been made single lane with cement blocks and in addition a vehicle must switch lanes, so it would not be easy to blast through the blockade. There are two military helicopters waiting. The security line is a tented corridor and the wind is blowing through the tunnel. Very cold.

I have a pass today for the diplomatic sessions. The room is huge, with large screen monitors displaying the speaker and a monitor listing the next few who will be speaking. I listened for a few minutes, heard countries very much on board with ideas of technology and development and each adding a bit about their own policies. Kuwait: ranks first in Arab world for connectivity and 46th globally; 65% of households are connected to internet. The last hour was for non-countries, first UNESCO, next I was excited to hear, Nicholas Negroponte (one laptop per child (I wonder if it is accessible); $100 computer) but he wasn’t there, then ITU, ...

Legal Issues

about 50 attending, liability is a big concern. For small markets, if the liability situation is too difficult, products and services will not come. I arrived just in time to hear Bertrand La Chapelle, whom I’d met in San Jose at a WSIS I follow-up. He posed the question if the legal frameworks might be preventing a good development of the internet society.

Beldiman: copyright issues (an important topic for the disability convention): Copyright is an economic tool, creates market scarcity; else author loses control of rights to distribution and this is a powerful threat. Digital Rights Management (DRM). Technical protection measures. Current cycle of launch and crack, launch and crack led to WIPO treaties, oppressive, but copying migrates. Three stakeholders: rights holders, technology industry, public. In the struggle for the channels, the rights holders shut down the technology, a huge loss to the market.

(The inernational TRIPS agreement provides "exceptions to exclusive rights to certain special cases which do not conflict with a normal exploitatin of the work and do not unreasonably prejudice the legitimate interests of the right holder" which sounds to me like it enable what people with reading-related disabilities want for accommodations.)

I took advantage of the question time to raise consciousness, noted that for one sub-group of the public stakeholders, people with reading-related disabilities, access is inhibited by the protection measures. I asked for suggestions for language to incorporate in the Convention, but the speaker had no words to suggest. However, a man from Switzerland, working on a Swiss disability law, will get in touch for ideas, and a man from Denmark seconded the need for access.

Another question was about the extra-territoriality of cyberspace and how to manage that - if no country law applies, then there is lawlessness. (But the anarchy of the internet was/is very attractive to me.) This is an issue for People Who because I don’t like to be classed geographically, certainly not as US, or California, or Santa Cruz, feel we function "on the internet" somewhere. My default is the 501 (c) (3), People Who, is international, but that’s a default from what I’d prefer.

It is now pouring, loud on the roof of the tent, and cold in the meeting rooms.

The Dominican Republic is the first country to fully implement the Millennium Development Goals.

Belgium is the first country to have compulsory electronic national identity cards.

I listened for a while to a values discussion, felt as if in a cult environment, the speaker asserted beliefs as facts, positioned humans as masters of self and machines. The tone was soft, smooth, the speaker confident, but my sense was that information went out but any input was deflected into their model. an ethereal disconnection.

The news reports have said there were protesters, but I haven’t seen any and they couldn’t get anywhere near the site. Even the alleys leading to the exit road are guarded by men with rifles.

The news reports 23,000 people here, from some 70 countries. Some results are that the US will keep control of ICANN for an indeterminate period (US calls this a win) and with other country representatives participating in the management. The Forum will seek best ways to reduce the technological gap between rich and poor countries and the means to oppose spam. The Fund for this has been functioning for 6 months.

Two billion have never used a telephone, more have never taken an airplane, many more have never heard of the internet.

E inclusion: a better e-future for all

Global Disability Forum:

There are about 75 in a room with so many chairs that it is difficult to enter and exit. The schedule has been rearranged because of flight delays. There is signing in Arabic, French, Finnish, several who are blind, three wheel chairs, I think, There is a ramp to access the podium area, a floral arrangement, six microphones, and monitors in the table in front of each seat so that panelists don’t have to twist behind them to look at presentations.

Markku Hakkinen, from New Jersey, gave a thorough presentation about what is lacking in disaster preparedness for pwd and the necessity for a multi-modality approach. See for more about preparedness and technology.

Steve Shore presented about the accommodations for people with autism spectrum disorders, asked that people not use flash for photos while he presented. I felt so sad that there was such good material available for education about people about autism, and thought about how the intellectual disability community had done such a good job with self-determination and inclusion, and then thought about NAMI which insists on the dehumanizing disease and forced management model. I just don’t get it!

I was asked to represent WNUSP during the IDA panel. The presentations were all brief and left time for audience involvement. My remarks are I took the opportunity in an answer to also note the problem with the health caucus separating physical from mental health and how that is always at the expense of people with psychosocial disabilities. Yvonne Grandbois, WHO, spoke of developing their library, wanting the input of pwd, and apologized that it was still called mental health and that "we need to evolve." (After, I decided to at least see who was attending that health caucus, maybe say hello to the woman I’d been arguing so hard with, and found the session had been canceled. I was relieved to not have the chance to get angry all over again about this insistence that mental health is different.)

Kohe was fine with my comments and so was Mme Daoulatli from the Tunisia Mental Health Association (aim social integration) whose son has schizophrenia.

There was an expectation from some in the audience for IDA to be at least knowledgeable about future programs for both developed and developing countries.

One of the questions was about not just discussing access for all, but the need to control the content. Actually many questions were more statements, and that made the session very participatory.

The forum was one of the ones selected to report back at the closing plenary. Hiroshi will use his three minutes to summarize the declaration, which after a bit of word tweaking. was adopted enthusiastically.

China's internet censorship is fluid and constantly evolving.  Internet cafes are an integral component in bridging the digital divide by offering access to the internet and all its resources to economically disadvantaged groups who do not have access through their homes, work or school.

I sat on the bus 30 minutes before it left, chatted with a woman who works in NY at the UN about how to end the terrorist mentality and what we will be leaving the next generation, and am now sitting in my hotel lobby typing these notes. I leave in 45 minutes for the airport and some vacation time in southern Tunisia.