Multistakeholder Engagement: Imperative for Accessibility

2 September 2014 - A Workshop on Other in Istanbul, Turkey

Brief substantive summary of the workshop and presentation of the main issues that were raised during the discussions

Francesca Cesa Bianchi discussed the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD), specifically its ICT accessibility provisions and its implications on multi-stakeholder involvement in policy making. The CRPD, which was adopted by the UN General Assembly in 2006, has been signed to date by 158 Member States and has been ratified by 148. It defines accessibility obligations in all areas, including Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs). Particularly important in this regard are Articles 9 – addressing accessibility barriers in the digital age – and Article 21 – addressing freedom of expression. Furthermore, in its general obligations, the CRPD states in Article 4.3 (General Obligations) that States Parties shall consult with and involve Persons with Disabilities when developing policies to implement the CRPD. Persons with Disabilities are a crucial source of knowledge and expertise when developing policies. In 2012 the G3ict CRPD ICT Accessibility Progress Report showed that most successful countries in ICT accessibility involve Persons with Disabilities in policy making. However, the 2013 report showed that there is still a wide lack of participation overall. So in collaboration with ITU, G3ict produced the Model ICT Accessibility Policy Report, to assist ICT policy makers, regulators and other stakeholders in developing new ICT accessibility policies or revising existing ones. The report is organized by type of ICT and includes six modules (ICT accessibility legal, policy and regulatory framework, access points, mobile, TV and video programming, web and public procurement). Each module specifies how to engage Persons with Disabilities on the issue.

Susan Schorr further presented four of the six modules of the ITU/G3ict Model ICT Accessibility Policy Report, with the aim of showing how the CRPD’s ICT provisions can be transposed into national policy and legal frameworks. In every country, the ICT sector is governed by national policies, legislation and regulations – the only way to guarantee ICT accessibly is to ensure that the issue is included in these policy and regulatory frameworks. In addition, public procurement laws are highly effective in promoting the availability of accessible ICTs. When governments, being large buyers of ICT products and services, procure the most accessible products and services, local suppliers will only stock accessible ICT solutions. Likewise local developers and manufacturers will only produce accessible ICTs products and services. This makes ICTs available to all consumers and drives costs down. Module 1 addresses changes needed to existing ICT laws, by identifying different options for regulations, as different countries have different frameworks. The report identifies the need for current universal service and access frameworks to be expanded beyond the access to networks and the affordability of services to include ICT accessibility as a third goal. Furthermore, definitions in national legal frameworks have to be revised, adding definitions of persons with disabilities, and including persons with disabilities in existing definitions for “ICT users” and “underserved communities.” The model mobile phone accessibility policy, which may be the simplest for countries to implement and promises high impact, due to the widespread uptake of mobile telephony, calls for operators and retailers to stock accessible handsets for persons with disabilities and to train their staff to serve persons with disabilities. Other policy measures include affordability, such as offering discounts or special tariff plans for persons with disabilities (e.g. text-only plans for the deaf and hard of hearing). In regard to TV and video programming, key elements of this policy are to promote closed captioning, audio description, as well as audio subtitles and signing. It is important to raise awareness about these accessibility features so users know these services are available, including advertising them in Electronic Programming Guides. The module on public access to ICT services, including payphones and telecentres, calls for existing payphones and telecentres to be progressively replaced by accessible equipment and for all new payphones and telecentre equipment and services to be accessible. For all the described policies, it is crucial to consult with and involve Persons with Disabilities when developing the policies.

Gerry Ellis discussed the importance of the participation of Persons with Disabilities in standards development activities. There are roughly 1 billion Persons with Disabilities worldwide and about 2.2 billion people are emotionally attached to them – this group of people (family members, friends and colleagues and caregivers) have an approximate spending power of 8 trillion USD, which is a massive market one does not want to ignore. International standards are the way of opening up greater markets, across international borders. It is often said that standards stifle innovation, but they actually are a springboard for it. Common policies, international standards and good practices open up international markets. Furthermore, international standards are a great defense against litigation. They also make skills and accessibility transferrable, allowing Persons with Disabilities to move to different countries and still being included. An example for a standard is the WWW consortium’s web content accessibility guidelines, which have been adopted as an ISO and IEC standard. The CRPD mentions Universal Design, which is an approach to design that includes the needs of as many people as possible, including Persons with Disabilities. With increased accessibility everybody in society wins, not just Persons with Disabilities. The ISO/ISE Guide 71 is a good example – the guide talks about how to include the needs of Persons with Disabilities when developing standards. The guide has been under review for the past three years and has now been made public, so people can comment on it – it should be finalized by November 2014. It is possible that the final version will be adopted by ITU, ISO and IEC – which would be the first time, that all bodies adopt Guidelines 71 as the same standard.

Özgür Fatih Akpinar presented a regulatory perspective on e-accessibility, focusing on the case of Turkey. In 2011 a working group was established that brought together representatives from operators, government and Persons with Disabilities, in order to establish the needs of Persons with Disabilities in regard to ICTs. This was crucial as in Turkey, around 20% of the population lives with some kind of disability. Often ICT services and applications are either not accessible, or Persons with Disabilities are not aware that accessible ICTs exist. For example, mobile operators used to communicate with customers through a type of SMS which was not accessible to blind users. So a decision was made within the working group to introduce a regulation that mobile operators would also send out voice mails. Another example was that all operators and service providers were required to set up accessible websites. In order to raise awareness about accessible ICT services and applications, a TV spot was created. So the public-private partnership enabled the private sector to learn more about the needs of Persons with Disabilities, and Persons with Disabilities learned more about available accessible services and applications.

Mehmet Emin Demirci discussed the contribution of the disability community to developing e-accessibility policies and programs. In 1948, the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights was the only human rights treaty. Now we have the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. It is evident how crucial the Internet is to connect people to the world, but the Internet is still much less accessible to Persons with Disabilities. Persons with Disabilities often need an intermediary transmitter to make information on a device accessible. Of course, there are more and more regulations and rules that focus on the accessibility of the Internet. The disability community has greatly contributed to this. The European Blind Union has developed guidelines and reports and has done advocacy at the national and regional level. An example is the steady advocacy for a Web Accessibly Directive at the European level. As a result, the parliament of the European Union has made the first reading in February 2014 to develop a directive. Looking at Turkey, unfortunately there is no framework available to push public bodies to make the web more accessible. A few organizations and companies have shown leadership in this regard, but a general legal framework is still missing and has to be established.

Nasser Kettani elaborated on the potential of multi-stakeholder initiatives involving the private sector. Microsoft has been recognizing the importance of the disability community for years. Microsoft is proud of the work they have been doing, while being aware that more has still to be done. Accessibility should be understood in a broader sense then just concerning Persons with Disabilities – not being able to speak a particular language in a particular environment can also be a disability. This means that accessibility concerns everybody. Looking at the evolution of technology, the reality is that this evolution is on one side going to provide opportunities to make it very easy to serve Persons with Disabilities. At same time, if it is not done in the right way, this opportunity can be missed – innovators as well as policy makers have to understand this. This is why a dialogue has to take place between all stakeholders to advance accessibility in this regard. Three recommendations concerning policy are the following: First, governments should lead by example and make all services accessible, so that this becomes a standard that all other sectors will adopt as well eventually. Second, disability issues should be made part of all educational curriculum. This will in the long run create an inclusive society, where Persons with Disabilities will just be seen as a regular part of society. Finally, innovators should make sure that innovation does not come at the cost of privacy – the privacy of anybody, including Persons with Disabilities, has to be respected. Working in cooperation and with multiple stakeholders is absolutely essential to get all these things right.

Conclusions drawn from the workshop and possible follow up actions

A multi-stakeholder approach to policy making is crucial in order to ensure that ICTs become more accessible for Persons with Disabilities and for society at large. Particularly, the consultation and involvement of Persons with Disabilities in processes is fundamental to understand the needs of Persons with Disabilities. The Multi-Stakeholder Engagement approach insures that Persons with Disabilities are included and will be able to participate in society as full citizens. For the future, it is important to open up this discussion to other stakeholder groups and bring in a more diverse audience.

Estimation of the overall number of participants present at the workshop


Estimation of the overall number of women present at the workshop

about half of the participants were women

Extent to that the workshop discuss gender equality and/or women’s empowerment

was one of the main theme of the workshop

A brief summary of the discussions in case that the workshop addressed issues related to gender equality and/or women’s empowerment

No information provided

Reported by

Mischa Liatowitsch