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Rights of persons with disabilities


15 Feb 2017

Rights of persons with disabilities are high on the radar in the USA, as questions were raised about the new US Department of Education secretary, Betsy DeVos's, whose priorities were examined (Is Betsy DeVos against enforcing disability rights laws — or does she not understand them?). In addition, 'Disabled, Shunned and Silenced in Trump's America' gives a poignant, personal reaction to discovering that the Disabilities section of the US White House website had been removed. At the same time, a Federal complaint alleges school district website 'inaccessible' on the west coast of the USA, alleging that the Palo Alto school district's 'recently redesigned website are [sic] not accessible to people with vision impairments and other disabilities'. Another article, Dear anti-Trump protesters: don’t forget those of us with disabilities highlights the particular difficulties persons with disabilities face when trying make their voices heard.

2 Feb 2017

CNets' Tech Enabled series 'Tech  enabled: Engineering independence skill and success -- for all',  has published two new articles: Disability activists, amplified: Social media gets the job done, which emphasises that having a disability doesn't have to silence your voice, and Facebook AI paints better word pictures for the blind, which explains Facebook's new technology which uses verbs, not just nouns, in photo captions that voice applications can read to the visually impaired. The first article notes 'What gets lost at times: the less conventional innovation happening on the periphery of the tech world. These are advances that may only help a small number of people, but they're the kinds of breakthroughs that can change lives.' The first article in the series A quadriplegic's challenge: Make me a touch-free phone details the process of building a better mobile phone, from the idea and request to hardware, software, and improvements, in an impressive example of innovation to improve access for persons with disabilities.

1 Feb 2017

According to Annalisa Merelli in Quartz Media, within hours of Obama taking power in the USA, the White House website listed 20 priority issues. Since the Trump inauguration, the US White House website shows a list of six. Notably missing is information on persons with disabilities, civil rights, the LGBT community, and climate change. Although previously implemented, there is no longer a version with access for persons with disabilities, or a Spanish language version. In addition, the website disabilities issue page itself has been removed. This page on disability issues, while no longer linked from the White House website, can be seen in the archived copy, for reference.  


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


IGF 2016 Report


The challenges faced by persons with disabilities in both using Internet and other digital tools, and in participanting 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 accesibility. 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 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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