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Accessibility provisions for States Parties to the Convention

Accessibility provisions for States Parties to the Convention


Edited by Axel Leblois, Executive Director, G3ict. Contributor: Susan Schorr, Head, Special Initiatives Division, ITU Telecommunication Development Bureau (BDT).

Section Summary
This section gives the relevant excerpts and Articles from the Convention that deal with areas that member countries have to comply with. It details the sector specific accessibility stipulations with direct implications for:
• e-Government
• Media & Internet
• Education
• Employment
• Political Rights
• Emergency Response
• Culture & Leisure
• Special International Information and Programs Related to the Convention.

The section also discusses the importance of the Convention for public procurement rules, and the States’ obligation to define the minimum standards as per the Convention. Setting these standards is important, since promoting international standards are an essential success factor for States Parties implementing ICT accessibility and assistive technologies programs and policies. It is also imperative that States try and ensure the affordability of accessible goods and services as well as assistive technologies.

Accessibility dispositions include general ICT accessibility requirements as per Article 9 (see Definitions, Scope of ICT), as well as sector specific accessibility stipulations with direct implications for e-government, media & Internet, education, employment, political rights, emergency response, culture & leisure, and special international information and programs related to the Convention.

Given the rapid evolution of technologies and diverse ICT environments found around the world, the Convention defines obligations in relation to desired outcomes by application areas, rather than in specific technical terms. So, it is the responsibility of States, civil society and industry to define the required solutions in their respective jurisdictions. This Toolkit is intended to offer an evolving knowledge base and good practice sharing platform for policy makers and civil society leaders seeking the best implementation solutions today and in future years as new technology and solutions appear on the market place.

The following excerpts from the text of the Convention are organized by main area of application for quick reference.

e-Government
• “Providing information intended for the general public to persons with disabilities in accessible formats and technologies appropriate to different kinds of disabilities in a timely manner and without additional cost” - Article 21 (a);
• “Accepting and facilitating the use of sign languages, Braille, augmentative and alternative communication, and all other accessible means, modes and formats of communication of their choice by persons with disabilities in official interactions” - Article 21 (b);
• “In order to promote equality and eliminate discrimination, States Parties shall take all appropriate steps to ensure that reasonable accommodation is provided” - Article 5.3 (Applicable to all sectors, this disposition constitutes a strong obligation for all activities directly controlled by governments).

Media and the Internet
• “Encouraging the mass media, including providers of information through the Internet, to make their services accessible to persons with disabilities” - Article 21 (d)

Education
“States Parties recognize the right of persons with disabilities to education:

 Realizing this right, States Parties shall ensure that persons with disabilities can access an inclusive, quality and free primary education and secondary education on an equal basis with others in the communities in which they live and that reasonable accommodation of the individual’s requirements is provided;

• States Parties shall ensure that persons with disabilities are able to access general tertiary education, vocational training, adult education and lifelong learning without discrimination and on an equal basis with others. To this end, States Parties shall ensure that reasonable accommodation is provided to persons with disabilities;

• States Parties shall take appropriate measures to train professionals and staff who work at all levels of education. Such training shall incorporate disability awareness and the use of appropriate augmentative and alternative modes, means and formats of communication, educational techniques and materials to support persons with disabilities” - Excerpts from Article 24.

Employment
 “States Parties recognize the right of persons with disabilities to work, on an equal basis with others; this includes the right to the opportunity to gain a living by work freely chosen or accepted in a labour market and work environment that is open, inclusive and accessible to persons with disabilities” - Article 27.1;

• “States Parties…ensure that reasonable accommodation is provided to persons with disabilities in the workplace” - Article 27.1 (i).

Political rights
• “Ensuring that voting procedures, facilities and materials are appropriate, accessible and easy to understand and use” - Article 29 (a) (i).

Emergency services
• “…These measures, which shall include the identification and elimination of obstacles and barriers to accessibility, shall apply… to Information, communications and other services, including electronic services and emergency services - Article 9.1 (b).

Cultural life
• “States Parties recognize the right of persons with disabilities to take part on an equal basis with others in cultural life, and shall take all appropriate measures to ensure that persons with disabilities:
(a) Enjoy access to cultural materials in accessible formats;
(b) Enjoy access to television programmes, films, theatre and other cultural activities, in accessible formats;  
(c) Enjoy access to places for cultural performances or services, such as theatres, museums, cinemas, libraries and tourism services, and, as far as possible, enjoy access to monuments and sites of national cultural importance" - Article 30.

Dispositions for access to specific information and programs

International Cooperation:
 “Ensuring that international cooperation, including international development programmes, is inclusive of and accessible to persons with disabilities”  - Article 32.1 (a).

Availability of the text of the Convention:
• “The text of the present Convention shall be made available in accessible formats” - Article 49.

Information about assistive technologies:
• “To provide accessible information to persons with disabilities about mobility aids, devices and assistive technologies, including new technologies, as well as other forms of assistance, support services and facilities” - Article 4 (1) (h).

Statistics and data collection:
States Parties shall assume responsibility for the dissemination of these statistics and ensure their accessibility to persons with disabilities and others” - Article 31.3.

Provisions for the private sector and civil society
While States Parties can directly implement the ICT accessibility dispositions of the Convention in the context of public services controlled by central governments, the Convention requires them to address issues that may arise from private sector or civil society activities. 

It's Article 4 (e) on General Obligations requires States “To take all appropriate measures to eliminate discrimination on the basis of disability by any person, organization or private enterprise”. 

Three articles further reinforce this general obligation:
• Article 9 (b) on Accessibility specifies that States should “Ensure that private entities that offer facilities and services which are open or provided to the public take into account all aspects of accessibility for persons with disabilities”.  

• Article 21 (c) on Freedom of expression and opinion, and access to information stipulates that States should urge “Private entities that provide services to the general public, including through the Internet, to provide information and services in accessible and usable formats for persons with disabilities”.

• Article 27 (h) on Work and Employment requires States to “Promote the employment of persons with disabilities in the private sector through appropriate policies and measures, which may include affirmative action programmes, incentives and other measures” immediately followed by paragraph (i) on reasonable accommodation.

Implications of the Convention for Public Procurement Rules
From a practical standpoint, one of the most important levers which can be used by governments to comply with ICT accessibility obligations is to ensure that appropriate public procurement rules include ICT accessibility considerations. 

Although the Convention does not specifically mention public procurement policies, Reporting Guidelines issued by the Secretary-General of the United Nations to States Parties do include them. Such reporting requirement is logical since the Conventionit establishes general obligations regarding government policies and programs:

States Parties shall “take into account the protection and promotion of the human rights of persons with disabilities in all policies and programmes”; and

“Refrain from engaging in any act or practice that is inconsistent with the present Convention and to ensure that public authorities and institutions act in conformity with the present Convention,” - Article 4 (c) and (d).

The purchase of inaccessible ICT product and services by States Parties to the Convention would thus seem incompatible with those general obligations and more specifically with ICT accessibility dispositions for communicating with the public or, when those purchases are made for government internal use, incompatible with the obligation to foster an accessible work environment. 

Furthermore, Article 9 on Accessibility specifies that “States Parties shall also take appropriate measures to develop, promulgate and monitor the implementation of minimum standards and guidelines for the accessibility of facilities and services open or provided to the public” Article 9.2 (a). In that regard, public procurement constitutes an excellent vehicle to foster standards. Several countries have followed this path such as the United States with Section 508 of the American Rehabilitation Act. Read more on public procurement.

The U.S. experience is an important one from a process standpoint: the U.S. Access Board which defines public procurement accessibility rules receives recommendations regarding ICT accessibility from the Telecommunications and Electronic and Information Technology Advisory Committee (TEITAC), which includes ICT industry, persons with disabilities and representatives of government agencies. This approach is supported by the preamble of the Convention, which states: Considering that persons with disabilities should have the opportunity to be actively involved in decision-making processes about policies and programmes, including those directly concerning them”

Obligation to define minimum standards
Article 9 on Accessibility specifies that “States Parties shall also take appropriate measures to develop, promulgate and monitor the implementation of minimum standards and guidelines for the accessibility of facilities and services open or provided to the public, - Article 9.2 (a). 

One of the important benefits of standards for persons with disabilities is to ensure a greater level of interoperability between systems, communication protocols and applications. In addition, from an ICT industry standpoint, the development of accessibility and assistive technologies standards can greatly enhance market dynamics. Standards fosters competition, enable industry to deliver mass produced, and therefore cheaper, accessible and assistive solutions based on greater economies of scale and competition. 

Given the global nature of ICT markets and the international scope of most ICT vendor’s footprints, promoting international standards are an essential success factor for States Parties implementing ICT accessibility and assistive technologies programs and policies. States Parties are therefore encouraged to the greatest extent possible to actively participate or remain updated on the work of Standard Development Organizations (SDOs) such as the International Organization for Standardization (ISO), the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), the American National Standards Institute (ANSI), the European Telecommunications Standards Institute (ETSI), the Worldwide Web Consortium Web Accessibility Initiative (W3C-WAI), the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) or other specialized SDOs. Section 4 of this Toolkit on “Technology Areas” references standards for all major categories of ICTs and ICT applications whenever available.

For an overview of current ICT accessibility standards and work in progress at International Standards Development Organizations, consult the proceedings of the 2008 ITU-G3ict Global Forum on: “The Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities: Challenges and Opportunities for ICT Standards".

Promoting international standards directly addresses the requirement of affordability of accessible ICTs and assistive technologies covered in the next section.

Affordability
Affordability of accessible goods and services and assistive technologies is an underlying objective of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. Affordability of accessible ICTs and assistive technologies is explicitly mentioned in Article 4 (g) General Obligations: “To undertake or promote research and development of, and to promote the availability and use of new technologies, including information and communications technologies, mobility aids, devices and assistive technologies, suitable for persons with disabilities, giving priority to technologies at an affordable cost”. 

It also specifies in Article 28.2 (a) Adequate standard of living and social protection: “To ensure equal access by persons with disabilities…to appropriate and affordable services, devices and other assistance for disability-related needs”.

Those general dispositions indicate that States Parties to the Convention should integrate the objective of affordability of accessible ICTs and assistive technologies for persons living with disabilities, often economically disadvantaged.

International cooperation
The Convention in its preamble recognizes “the importance of international cooperation for improving the living conditions of persons with disabilities in every country, particularly in developing countries…”  It also establishes the ground in its Article 32 on International Cooperation for proactive exchanges “Facilitating cooperation in research and access to scientific and technical knowledge”.  

Suggested Reading
Rodolfo Cattani, “Why are Standards Important for People with Disabilities”.