Rights of persons with disabilities

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According to UN estimates, there are 1 billion people with disabilities in the world. The factors that contribute to increasing this number include war and destruction by natural as well as human causes; poverty and unhealthy living conditions; and the absence of knowledge about disability, its causes, prevention, and treatment. The Internet provides new possibilities for social inclusion and for safeguarding the rights of persons with disabilities.

Frameworks for safeguarding the rights of persons with disabilities

In order to maximise technological possibilities for people with disabilities, there is a need to develop the necessary Internet governance and policy framework. The main international instrument in this field is the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, adopted by UN in 2006 and signed by 159 countries (April 2014), which establishes rights that are now in the process of being included in national legislation, which will make them enforceable.

Awareness of the need for technological solutions that include people with disabilities is increasing with the work of organisations that teach and foster support for the disabled community, such as the IGF Dynamic Coalition on Accessibility and Disability, the Internet Society Disability and Special Needs Chapter, and the International Center for Disability Resources on the Internet.

The lack of accessibility arises from the gap between the abilities required to use hardware, software, and content, and the available abilities of a person with a disability. To narrow this gap there are two directions of policy actions:

  • Include accessibility standards in the requirements for the design and development of equipment, software, and content.
  • Foster the availability of accessories in hardware and software that increase or substitute the functional capabilities of the person.

In the field of Internet governance, the main focus is on web content, as it is in rapid development and constitutes a kind of infrastructure. Many web applications do not comply with accessibility standards due to a lack of awareness or perceived complexity and high costs (which is far from today’s reality). International standards in web accessibility are developed by W3C within its Web Accessibility Initiative.

In addition, the Internet Rights and Principles (Section 13) and the Dynamic Coalition on Accessibility and Disability (DCAD) address the specific issue of rights of persons with disabilities. The DCAD Accessibility Guidelines (2015) – produced during the 10th Internet Governance Forum in Brazil, detail steps to be taken to improve and support these rights.

Ms Virginia Paque

Internet Governance and E-diplomacy Programmes

Born (and currently residing) in the United States, Ms Virginia (Ginger) Paque lived in Venezuela for more than 35 years. An educator and administrator by profession, she has 25 years’ experience in business and manufacturing systems consulting. As a board member of the United Nations Association of Venezuela, her work as the Venezuelan member of the World Federation of United Nations Associations Task Force on WSIS marked her entry to the world of Internet governance (IG) during the Geneva PrepComs. Active in Civil Society discussions on IG, Ginger served as IG Caucus co-coordinator for two years. She was a member of the UN Internet Governance Forum (IGF) Multistakeholder Advisory Group (MAG) from 2015 to 2017. Having completed a Master in Contemporary Diplomacy with a thesis focusing on the importance of IG as a new diplomatic priority, Ginger currently lectures on IG for Diplo and curates human rights topics for the GIP Digital Watch observatory.

Latest Updates on this Issue - Read More on the Topic

Comcast interface for changing channels with your eyes

Telecomms corporation Comcast has launched a remote digital set-top box interface that allows anyone to change the channel using an eye tracker. The digital remote was designed primarily for people with disabilities, like ALS or muscular dystrophy, who have difficulty using physical remote controls although anyone can use it by just gazing at a specific button or spelling out a word.

Report shows increase in online hate crime against persons with disabilities

The charitable organisation Leonard Cheshire has reported a 33% increase in reports of online hate crime against persons with disabilities between 2017 and 2018 in the UK. The report also shows that 75% of respondents perceived this type of crimes to be increasingly common. While acknowledging that this may show an increase in reports and follow-up, it also indicates it may be just 'the tip of the iceberg'.

EU Parliament approves the European Accessibility Act

The European Union (EU) Parliament has approved the enactment of the European Disabilities Act. This is considered as an important first step that will pave the way for EU legislation to that will ensure that products and services become accessible for persons with disabilities. 

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