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Developing policy
Step 2: Disability policies approaches

Step 2: Disability policies approaches

Edited by Dónal Rice, Senior Design Advisor, ICT, Centre for Excellence in Universal Design, NDA

Three types of disability policy approaches are examined in this section: 

1. Accessibility policies (both horizontal and sectoral specific policies)
2. Mainstreaming ICT policies
3. Policies in support of civil society or non-government organizations

1. Accessibility Policies
The European Commission has developed a number of reports of relevance:

The October 2007 report includes a Policy Inventory covering 28 countries who were EU Member States at the end of 2006, plus the countries of Australia, Canada and the U.S. for comparison. 

This November 2008 report contains suggested key requirements and elements of an overall framework for further EU measures on e-accessibility. It also provides examples of strong approaches in more commonly addressed fields [3].

Key requirements

The key objectives of a coordinated European approach would include:

- better coverage of and impacts on ICT sectors already addressed

- extending coverage to other ICT sectors

- ensuring coverage of the full e-Accessibility 'supply chain' (including 'end-to-end' accessibility, and coverage of both the producer and deployer sectors)

- effectively dealing with a moving target of sectors, technologies and applications

- ensuring consistency of requirements across countries and measures.

Elements of an overall framework

The framework identifies some of the main components that could be included in a more complete and effective approach to e-Accessibility. These include:

- a combination of 'top-down’ and ‘bottom-up’ legislation

- an approach that first established the basic legislation, followed by detailed rule-making

- a combination of vertical and horizontal approaches

- effective use of public procurement

- appropriate usage of soft law, with linkage to hard law

- establishment of points of reference (including standards and codes of practice)

- a range of other public measures (public assistive technology services, financial supports for users/consumers, tax-breaks or other incentives for industry). 


Examples of "strong" approaches in Horizontal (non-sectoral) legislation and specific legislation in more commonly addressed fields:

  • Horizontal

  • Public web

  • Business websites

  • Fixed telephony services

  • Television and TV broadcasting

  • Public procurement

  • Employment equality

  • Self-service terminals     

  • Computer hardware/software

  • Assistive technology

2. Mainstreaming ICT policies
Mainstreaming and stakeholder engagement is another important approach for policy making. The Convention references mainstreaming of disability issues in the Preamble "as an integral part of relevant strategies of sustainable development" [4].

Noting mainstreaming as an emerging issue, the UN Economic and Social Council published a report entitled, Mainstreaming Disability in the Development Agenda (E/CN.5/2008/6) [5]. The report noted a World Bank report that during the fiscal years 2002-2006, only 5 percent of new lending commitments had a disability component. As a result, "In March 2007, the World Bank issued a guidance note to assist its projects in better incorporating the needs of persons with disabilities, integrating a disability perspective into ongoing sector and thematic work programmes, and adopting an integrated and inclusive approach to disability" [6].

In her June 2007 European Commission presentation at the T4P'07 First International Conference on Technology for Participation and Accessible eGovernment Services, Inmaculada Placencia Porrero, Deputy Head of Unit, DG Employment, Social Affairs and Equal Opportunities, said that it is important to have a political understanding of the significance of mainstreaming disability issues. She also said that the requirements of mainstreaming involve four steps:

1.  Integration of disability perspective in all policy areas and at all stages of policy development;

2.  Active participation of all commission services;

3.  Participation of all relevant actors, including NGOs and representative organizations of people with disabilities; and

4.  Utilization of methodological tools, suitable coordination, adequate monitoring and impact assessment [7] .

Mainstreaming is a critical approach that enables policies and strategies to take the needs of persons with disabilities into account in all stages of policy development. Disability rights cannot be seen as a horizontal issue such as the sole responsibility of policymakers in welfare, labor or medical services. For example, during the data gathering survey of countries adopting accessible web design laws or policies, the author noticed a government website where accessible content was only provided on certain web pages dealing with medical or welfare information. When asked about this practice, the governmental agency said it was not aware that persons with disabilities might also be interested or benefit from visiting other web pages of that government portal.

Perhaps one helpful definition of mainstreaming is this:

Mainstreaming disability . . . is the process of assessing the implications for disabled people of any planned action, including legislation, policies and programmes, in all areas and at all levels. It is a strategy for making disabled people's concerns and experiences an integral dimension of the design, implementation, monitoring and evaluation of policies and programmes in all political, economic and societal spheres so that disabled people benefit equally and inequality is not perpetuated. The ultimate goal is to achieve disability equality  [8].

One key factor for mainstreaming success is the engagement of individuals with disabilities that represent cross-disability issues to inform all policy sectors. By actively participating in the development and implementation of policies and strategies for accessible ICT, persons with disabilities can contribute to the determination of the most relevant and appropriate strategies for successful policies. Be sure to plan accessible meetings and incorporate effective communication practices so that persons with disabilities can participate. [9].

3. Policies in support of civil society or non-government organizations

Role of civil society:

The role of civil society has been significant in the elaboration of the first human rights convention of the millennium. This is the first time that non-governmental organizations (NGOs) actively participated in the formulation of a human rights instrument [10]. NGOs represented persons with disabilities from around the world and many innovative aspects of the Convention reflect the contributions from civil society and NGOs. 

The Convention established two implementation mechanisms:  the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, established to monitor implementation, and the Conference of States Parties, established to consider matters regarding implementation. The Committee will initially be composed of 12 independent experts selected by the Conference of States Parties on 3 November 2008. When States choose individuals to nominate to the Committee, it will be important that States consult with and involve persons with disabilities and their NGOs.

Each State party to the Convention is required to submit to the Committee periodic comprehensive reports on measures taken to implement the Convention. The initial report by each State party must be made within two years of accepting the Convention and thereafter every four years.

The initial comprehensive report by each State party should:

  • Establish the constitutional, legal and administrative framework for the implementation of the Convention; Explain the policies and programmes adopted to implement each of the Convention's provisions; and

  • Identify any progress made in the realization of the rights of persons with disabilities as a result of the ratification and implementation of the Convention [11]

Subsequent reports by each State party should:

  • Respond to the concerns and other issues highlighted by the Committee in its concluding observations to previous reports;

  • Indicate progress made in the realization of the rights of persons with disabilities over the reporting period; and

  • Highlight any obstacles that the Government and other actors might have faced in implementing the Convention over the reporting period [12].

  • The Committee is tasked to examine each report and shall make suggestions and general recommendations as it considers appropriate to each State party. In addition, the Optional Protocol to the Convention gives the Committee competence to examine individual complaints from citizens about alleged violations of the Convention by States parties to the Protocol. The Committee activity can be followed by visiting their website at the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Civil Rights at

Civil society and NGOs will play a significant role in that the reports must be open and transparent and reflect consultations with persons with disabilities. Civil society organizations are no longer serving a primary role of service delivery, but are increasingly influential in policymaking and in performing watchdog functions.

It is also important to note that Article 33 of the Convention is very specific about designating one or more focal points within government for addressing implementation and requires States to consider the establishment or designation of a coordination mechanism within government to facilitate action in different sectors and at different levels. States must establish an independent framework, such as a national human rights institution, to promote and monitor implementation of the Convention. Article 33 sets forth a key role for civil society by providing that persons with disabilities and their representative organizations must be involved and participate fully in the monitoring process.

The Handbook for Parliamentarians on the Convention recommends that States establish a coordination mechanism that:

  • Consists of a permanent structure with appropriate institutional arrangements to allow coordination among intragovernmental actors;

  • Ensures coordination at the local, regional and national/federal levels; and

- Ensures the participation of persons with disabilities and NGOs by establishing a permanent forum for discussions with civil society [13].

[1] See Assessment of the Status of eAccessibility in Europe webpage at
[2] See Accessibility to ICT Products and services by Disabled and Elderly People at
[3] Ibid
[4] Preambole (g) of Convention on Rights of Persons with Disabilities.
[5] See Mainstreaming Disability in the Development Agenda at
[6] Social Analysis and Disability: A Guidance Note: Incorporating Disability-Inclusive Development into Bank-Supported Projects (World Bank, March 2007), at
[7] Inmaculada Placencia Porrero PowerPoint presentation for T4P'07 (pg.27-28)
[8] Miller, Carol and Bill Albert, Mainstreaming Disability in Development: Lessons from Gender Mainstreaming (March 2005) at
[9] For example, meeting documents should be made available in alternate formats so that persons with visual disabilities can access the content; meeting rooms and restrooms should be accessible for persons with mobility disabilities; and sign language interpreters, real time captioning, assistive listening devices and TTYs, as appropriate, should be available upon request for persons with hearing disabilities.
[10] See "Why a Convention?" and "How was the Convention Negotiated?" at
[11] See UN Enable- Frequently Asked Questions at
[12] Ibid.
[13] See From Exclusion to Equality: Realizing the rights of persons with disabilities, Handbook for Parliamentarians on the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and its Optional Protocol, p. 96.  Also online at (Hereinafter referred to as Handbook).