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The session focussed on challenges and concrete projects and initiatives aimed at improving accessibility for people with physical and mental disabilities online and offline. With a growing aging population, accessibility is an issue that concerns us all.
Mr Peter Crosbie (Civil Society, Western European and Others Group) highlighted the importance of cognitive accessibility, which is an important concept not only for autistic or dyslexic people, but also for society in general. Fostering cognitive accessibility is about reducing the cognitive load or the mental effort required to navigate a website, for example, or needed in situations in which the individual is tired or under emotional distress. Cognitive accessibility also benefits people who are less digitally literate.
Technical barriers for accessibility co-exist with policy-related barriers. From the educational point of view, for example, some advancements have been made by the World Intellectual Property Organization, which celebrated a treaty to facilitate accessibility of copyright-protected material for blind people (Marrakesh Treaty). Concern was expressed regarding safety in connection with police forces in some states, which have reacted violently against social movements and protesters. The number of cases in which physical damage occurs is rising, including cases that result in blindness.
Digital accessibility needs to be considered in the design of platforms and applications. Ms Anne Igeltjorn (Technical Community, Western European and Others Group (WEOG)) suggested that ICT professionals and developers need to hear different user groups when they design products and platforms. Special attention needs to be paid to marginalised groups, such as blind women and girls, according to Mr Mohammed Azziz, who has worked for the last thirteen years in a school for the blind in Afghanistan.
Some progress on accessibility has been made in different parts of the world. According to a participant, Afghanistan passed a law determining that government institutions have to assign 3% of their job posts to people with disabilities. Igeltjorn mentioned that in Norway, an obligation to ensure that everything follows a universal design will be promulgated effective the 1st of January 2021. This is partially the fruit of a concern with the growing elderly population of Norway. Even if a person does not carry a disability today, he or she may have one in the future. Accessibility, therefore, concerns us all.
Some participants suggested a concerted effort to include the issue of accessibility in school curricula and that to ensure that educators receive training and materials on this issue. Other questions from participants revolved around whether a one-size-fits-all approach is satisfactory and concerning a minimum baseline for websites to meet accessibility needs.
Conclusions from the session included the need to conduct more research and data-collection, especially on the Global South, to understand the social and cultural factors that can act as a barrier to accessibility.
By Marilia Maciel