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UNIC Moscow Press-briefing on e-Accessibility and Disability

  • Moscow, Russian Federation
  • March 17, 2009
  • UNIC Moscow

Alexander Gorelik, Director of UNIC Moscow, reports on the meeting.

On Tuesday, 17 March, the UN Information Centre (UNIC) Moscow, jointly with the Resident-Coordinator’s Office in Russia, held a press-briefing on Internet and E-accessibility in the framework of our continued effort to promote the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and advocate for its early ratification by Russia.

The meeting, held at Headquarters of the third in importance local news agency, RIA Novosti, was dedicated to the entry into force of a new state standard specification (ГОСТ) intended to make the Russian part of Internet (Rusnet) more accessible for visually impaired people. Our expert panel consisted of Irina Zadirako, member of the Public Chamber of the Russian Federation, Anatoly Popko, leading expert of REHACOMP (Institution of Professional Rehabilitation and Personnel Training of All-Russian Association of the Blind), Urvan Parfentiev, systems analyst of the Regional Non-Governmental Centre for Internet Technologies, Dmitry Satin, director of the UsabilityLab Company, Dirk Hebecker, Senior Human Rights Adviser, Office of OHCHR in the RF.

The event, attended by more than 50 persons (the room could not seat all the participants) was rather innovative as it tended to move the E-accessibility from the field of professional discussion into public domain.

In his opening comments, Mr. Anatoly Popko described the ГОСТ developed by his institution. He said the new standard was conceived fully keeping in mind the latest global model WCAG 2.0 and is expected to be further developed in the coming years. In his words, the common goal of the “pro-disabled” community in this country is to make the notion of E-accessibility “fashionable” and to engage decision-makers and officials at different levels.

Mr. Urvan Parfentiev stressed that ГОСТ is set to become a guidance for web-designers, web-masters and all internet-based professionals. This should become a tool to attract attention of government agencies, and the business community as well.

Mr. Dmitry Satin, director of the UsabilityLab Company, presented a mini-survey conducted by his company which tested web sites of three official structures. The study found that while the site of the Russian Ministry of Health and Social Development was quite accessible, portals of the Central Electoral Commission of the Russian Federation and the Federal Agency on Technological  Standards do not conform to ГОСТ. According to Mr. Satin, the new standard is a major step forward, but its potential remains to be fully realized. Much work is still to be done by the web community, but this is hardly conceivable without strong commitment of the government agencies.

Mr. Dirk Hebecker said that introduction of ГОСТ is a major positive shift. He reminded that advocacy for the rights of the disabled was one of priorities of the UN Country Team in this country. One of the core elements of the Disability Convention is introduction of another paradigm, a move from a medical or charity approach to empowering persons with disabilities, integrating them into society. Having reminded the audience of the motto “Nothing about us without us”, Mr. Hebecker pointed out that the ratification of the Convention remains a unifying objective of all “pro-disabled” actors in Russia.

After those introductory remarks many in attendance asked questions and spoke about the regional dimension of the problem in the Russian Federation, several initiatives in the pipeline (including “The Electronic Future” to be launched this spring), the need to reach out to different groups of the disabled, beyond the visually impaired, etc.

All in all, it was a highly successful initiative. An excellent moderation, high quality speakers, the diversity of expertise in the audience – these factors combined to make our press briefing one of the most substantive and action-oriented events recently.

Strong and positive feedback was received from those who attended, and networking aspect of the meeting was at the level of our expectations. As to the media reaction, the video report is posted on the RIA Novosti web site ( http://www.rian.ru/press_video/20090317/165171954.html ). Also, several news outlets are planning to place stories in the coming days.