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The Access Line
New Opportunities for Assistive Technologies
The idea that international treaties or the United Nations could have a positive impact on access to assistive technologies would seem bizarre at best... yet this is exactly what has happened on a global scale since the adoption of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) by the United Nations General Assembly. No one could predict this outcome, but the Convention has been signed, to-date, by 153 countries - including the United States - and ratified by 106, which means that it is legally enforceable in countries representing more than 75% of the world population: a stunning success and one of the fastest rates of adoption of any international treaty in history.
So what's in it for AT users and vendors?
First, the CRPD establishes the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in a thorough and unprecedented manner. It establishes the same level of obligation to make information and communication technologies accessible on par with the built environment and transportation. In short, it is now just as much a legal requirement in 106 countries that Web sites and ATMs be accessible, as it is for public buildings to include ramps.
Second, the CRPD makes "Reasonable Accommodation" a corner stone of disability rights, and the failure to provide it an act of discrimination against persons with disabilities.
Third, the CRPD (article 4, g-h-i) specifically supports Assistive Technologies and requires that ratifying countries implement policies and programs to:
Obviously, anyone in the assistive technology profession will read these lines with skepticism. So much legislation remains ineffective, underfunded or simply not implemented!
Yet, major industry players have taken up the opportunity to proactively support the implementation of the Convention: IBM, Microsoft, AT&T, Sprint, Time Warner Cable, Deque Systems, Code Factory or SSB BART Group, to name a few, are companies whose thought leadership is helping policy makers, service providers and organizations of persons with disabilities around the world define new approaches to promote and lobby for assistive technologies and services. And ATIA's David Dikter has been a vocal advocate for the AT industry in all G3ict's activities from Brazil to Europe to Qatar.
So what is G3ict working to see accomplished?
With the advent of the CRPD and the dynamics of globalized markets, there is no reason for the AT industry not to benefit from greater support and economies of scale. Fostering international cooperation and lobbying to leverage the dispositions of the CRPD can only help realize such objectives.
Axel Leblois is the founder and executive director of G3ict, the Global Initiative for Inclusive ICTs, an Advocacy Initiative of the United Nations Global Alliance for ICT and Development. G3ict is exclusively funded by private sector and charitable organizations and works primarily with governments, organizations of persons with disabilities and industry to promote the full implementation of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.