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Rights of persons with disabilities


26 Oct 2016

New European Union rules were adopted on 26 October 2016 in Strasbourg, as the European Parliament formally approved the Directive on the accessibility of the websites and mobile applications of public sector bodies.  The European Council and Commission agreed on the Directive in May 2016 (press release) and the Council adopted a new draft in July 2016. The rules will now be published in the Official Journal and will officially enter into force. Member states will have 21 months to include the text in their national legislation. In the European Commission statement, Vice-President Ansip and Commissioner Oettinger said: 'Everyone should benefit from the opportunities offered by the internet and fully participate in the digital society. Today's adoption is an important step in the right direction. New rules will ensure that people with disabilities – especially blind, deaf and hard of hearing persons – can more easily access and use the websites and mobile applications of public services.'   

18 Oct 2016

The USA's Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) protects persons with disabilities with protections similar to those given to other vulnerable groups. This includes equal opportunity for persons with disabilities while using telecommunications services and in public accommodations. Lawsuits filed against Ralph Lauren, Payless Shoes, and the Kardashian store DASH,  contend that their websites, as part of the public accommodation as defined by the ADA, and as an extension of the businesses, should be covered by the ADA. As explained in an article in The Fashion Law, the complaint states that 'by failing to equip their websites with screen reader software to enable visually impaired individuals to “enjoy full and equal access to the website and/or understanding the content therein,” the defendants are in violation of the ADA'.

10 Oct 2016

According to the article FCC’s Wheeler Touts Accessible Tech For Disabled in Law360, the USA's Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Tom Wheeler states that 'technology has the power to bridge the accessibility gap for individuals with cognitive disabilities, but that innovations must also consider accessibility from the start to avoid erecting barriers'.  The FCC's Disability Rights Office addresses disability-related matters, and supports industry participation, development of best practices, and recognition of the needs of this population, to overcome economic barriers and 'a lack of targeted outreach'. Wheeler also wrote: 'That means today’s innovations — like artificial intelligence, virtual and augmented reality, the internet of things, and automated speech recognition technologies — must involve accessibility from the start.'


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.




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


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


WSIS Forum 2016 Report

The need to ensure that the Internet and oher information and communication technologies are accesible 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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