The global Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities has been ratified by 177 states, which makes it obligatory for them to "promote access for persons with disabilities to new information and communications technologies and systems, including the internet." However, more than 12 years since the convention was born, web accessibility remains a distant reality for people with disabilities. Their experiences, needs and concerns were the focus of a session at the Internet Governance Forum (IGF) and of APC's pre-IGF Disco-tech event.
"I Can't Access This App" was the title of a session that focused on closing the web accessibility gap by sharing experiences from people with motor, vision and hearing impairments and making concrete recommendations for closing this gap. "Disability is not about the person, it's about the interaction between the person and the environment," was an idea repeated by several of the participants.
Accessibility consultant Gerry Ellis stressed how much technology can reduce the person's disability, recounting his experience with GPS technology. "I've never missed a stop since I have GPS. My impairment hasn't changed, but I'm less disabled now." Ellis took the room, both at the IGF session and during Disco-tech, through the lifelong learning experiences of people with cognitive and psychosocial disabilities through the past century. "Realising that we’re temporarily abled bodies can help us change the focus," he highlighted.
“For a person with disability and a huge user of technology like me, technology levels the playing field,” said Nidhi Goyal, a standup comedian and member of APC member organisation Point of View. "As the Sustainable Development Goals stress, let's not leave anyone behind."
Finance apps, activities around banking and other daily needs are still lagging behind in providing solutions for people with disabilities, was also stressed during the events. "This puts people's security at risk," Goyal noted.
"We have the standards, the means to make services accessible. The question is, why is this not happening? Is it a matter of will, of policy enforcement, of awareness and education skills?" asked panellist Shadi Abou Zahra from the World Wide Web Consortium at the IGF session. He also stressed how much accessibility has improved everyone's lives. "Accessibility is not only for people with disability. Think of captions in the context of conferences and how they benefit the majority of the population, for instance.”
"Nothing for us, without us" was highlighted by several of the participants, including Vashkar Bhattacharjee of Young Power in Social Action, to address the need to include persons with disabilities in the decision making around closing the accessibility gap.
The presentations at this year's Disco-tech were inspired and inspiring, showing a diversity of voices and range of experiences. What was clear from this year's event is that accessibility continues to be a challenge that confronts people worldwide, but until technology development starts putting inclusion as a priority, those with disabilities will face a bigger challenge than most.
Image: Nidhi Goyal and Gillo Cutrupi during the pre-IGF Disco-tech event. Photo by Arturo Bregaglio.