Rights of persons with disabilities

Updates

1 Jul 2017

The digital divide in the UK is particularly significant among the elderly people and the disabled. This was the conclusion of a report by Good Things Foundation and Professor Simeon Yates, titled ‘The real digital divide?’. The research uncovered that 15.2 million people in the UK were found to be either ‘non-users’ (defined as people who have no internet access or don’t use the internet even if they have access) or ‘limited users’ (people who rarely and infrequently go online). 47.7% of the ‘non-user’ group were found to have “a long-standing illness, disability or infirmity”, representing around 3.7 million people in the UK. 64.4% of non-users in the report are aged 65 or over. The report is based on a 2015 report from telecommunications regulatory body Ofcom on ‘Adults’ media use and attitudes’

14 Jun 2017

Andrea Januta reports that a grocery and pharmacy chain has been required to set aside $250,000 to revise its online site, and to pay the plaintiff's legal fees, after a  Miami (USA) federal judge ruled that the website violated the Americans with Disabilities Act. The plaintiff, who is legally blind, did not sue for damages, but to require that the site be made accessible to online screen reading technology. 

5 May 2017

Updates to the rights of persons with disabilities issues have documented recent work to highlight web access for persons with disabilities, notably, the US Department of Justice (DoJ) that free online course content must be accessible to persons with disabilities, or it must be removed from the UC Berkeley site. Discussion about this decision, such as Justice Department Disability Demands Raise Serious Free Speech Issues and Obama-Era DOJ Violated Free Speech Through Burdensome Demands for Disabled Access indicate that the decision is still controversial and may face review. Before the current Berkeley case, a related ruling in 2015 Justice Department Reaches Settlement with edX Inc., Provider of Massive Open Online Courses, to Make its Website, Online Platform and Mobile Applications Accessible Under the Americans with Disabilities Act. The debate continues, including objections by scholars, and support for removal of the non-compliant materials from some educators: 'Berkeley’s move to ensure accessibility in all of its public materials is necessary, though the college could also consider making choice selections from its past wealth of material accessible for all students'.

 

 

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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.

Events

Resources

Publications

Internet Governance Acronym Glossary (2015)
An Introduction to Internet Governance (2014)

Papers

The Promise and Challenge of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (2015)
Out of Darkness into Light? Introducing the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (2008)
Human Rights and Persons with Disabilities

Processes

IGF 2016 Report

 

The challenges faced by persons with disabilities in both using the Internet and other digital tools, and in participating in Internet governance processes were discussed in several sessions at IGF 2016. The Dynamic Coalition on Accessibility and Disabilities focused on the issue of accessibility for persons with disabilities for both virtual and physical spaces during the IGF event, but also touched on issues related to web and ICT accessibility. The need to further implement policies aimed at a better digital inclusion of persons with disabilities was a recurrent topic. The importance of considering universal design when creating digital tools and applications was underlined, as a way to keep the needs of different groups in mind already at the design stage instead of retroactively adding expensive adaptations for persons with disabilities (Sustainable Accessible Goals for Persons with Disabilities - WS272). 

WSIS Forum 2016 Report

 

The need to ensure that the Internet and other information and communication technologies are accessible for people with disabilities was addressed in a couple of sessions. Panellists in The Role of Web Accessibility in Digital Inclusion (session 142) presented possibilities to address the serious challenge that only 10% of EU websites are accessible to people with disabilities. They presented practical examples such as the W3C Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI), guidelines, links for checking websites for accessibility, and other possibilities to promote solutions for improvement. Making ICT Accessibility a Reality: Policies and Standards on the Public Procurement of Accessible ICTs (session 181) and Leave No One Behind (session 182) also focused on ways to make ICTs accessible to persons with disabilities.

IGF 2015 Report

 

The issues of access for persons with disabilities, and e- or online (remote) participation are in a state of constant change, making them particularly interesting to follow. They are addressed together here because of their inherent alliance (for example captioning and better tools) in support of strategies and tools that foster greater and more equitable inclusion.

Difficulties for access for persons with disabilities have been brought to the forefront by the work of the Dynamic Coalition on Access and Disability (DCAD) and have the full support of the IGF Secretariat and the Multistakeholder Advisory Group (MAG). Improvement is slow, but constant. DCAD is raising awareness, and assisting organisers, including the IGF Secretariat, to understand and improve strategies, such as expedited access to links for the DCAD and others needing them, and to assist with registration at workshops.

Awareness raising is critical, as shown in the comment made at the NETmundial main session noting that the NETmundial principles make no reference at all to addressing the needs of persons with disabilities. Empowering the Next Billion by Improving Accessibility (WS 253) provided an excellent presentation and discussion of tools that are invaluable for everyone (Skype translator, F123 Initiative) highlighting the unrecognised cross-cutting nature of these issues.

Online participation received little attention as an issue, although the debate in Viable Application & Debate: Online Participation Principles (WS 27) was dynamic and brought out basic issues in black and white. The principles for online participation, developed in successive IGF workshops with global online collaboration, should be widely disseminated for use and comment, and in support of funding for further innovative improvement for inclusive online access.

 

 

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