Internet Governance Forum 12 November 2007
Intersection of Open Standards, Development and Public Policy
Cynthia D. Waddell, Juris Doctor
Law, Policy and Technology Subject Matter Expert
International Center for Disability Resources on the Internet (ICDRI)
Good afternoon. My name is Cynthia Waddell and I am the Executive Director
and Law, Policy and Technology Subject Matter Expert for a NGO – the
International Center for Disability Resources on the Internet. I am also
Vice-Chair of the Internet Society Disability and Special Needs Chapter and wear
another hat as Lecturer in Law at Santa Clara University School of Law.
My comments today concern public policy, ICT (information and communication
technology) standards and the accessible design of ICT as mandated by the new
United Nations Convention on Rights of Persons with Disabilities.
I will begin with a very brief background on the convention or treaty, and
then I will offer a proposal that all Dynamic coalitions include accessible
design of ICT as a platform or point in their mission statements and goals. I
will also provide examples on how accessible design has a direct impact on each
Dynamic Coalition and why it must be addressed.
First – the Convention on Rights of Persons with Disabilities. It is the
first human rights treaty of this millennium to address rights of 650 million
persons with disabilities and impacts 2 billion persons including families of
persons with disabilities.
The Convention opened for signature last March with the highest number of
countries signing a convention in history. Last I looked, 118 countries have
Countries that ratify the Convention must align their legislation and
regulations with the requirements of the Convention unless their legislation and
regulations are already more favorable.
This alignment activity is already underway. The ICT industry and Standards
organizations need to be engaged.
Why do I say this?
ICT mandates are significant components of the Convention. Fourteen out of
the first thirty-two non-procedural articles of the Convention explicitly
mention ICT obligations of States.
These obligations are generally defined as a desired outcome, rather than in
specific technical terms.
Ratifying States are obligated to enact laws and regulations reflecting these
requirements and these laws may entail specific technical requirements.
States must promote accessible design of ICT-based services and applications
for government, employment, education, media and the Internet, consumer
services, emergency response and cultural life.
States must support ICT- based assistive services for persons with
States must support research and development efforts for assistive
States must encourage Universal Design or Design for all.
They must also engage in international cooperation to support new
technologies and seek to lower the cost of accessible technology as well as
ICT applications addressed in the convention also involve freedom of
expression, personal mobility and independent living.
Why am I calling for Dynamic Coalitions to include ICT accessible design in
The short reason is this – if you do not address this mandate, you may
continue to erect new barriers for persons with disabilities and not be in
alignment with national legislation for compliance with the treaty.
As I reviewed the mission and goals of the Dynamic Coalitions, I noticed that
accessibility and disability issues impact the majority of Dynamic Coalitions
currently underway. At this stage in our dialogue, I wonder if it would be most
effective for each Dynamic Coalition to mainstream disability and address the
theme as it impacts their domain.
Accessible design is a broad-cutting issue. Each Dynamic Coalition should be
reporting out on this issue or perhaps appoint someone who is on task to carry
the accessibility work forward.
So, you ask, how does this issue impact my Dynamic Coalition. Here are some
Open Standards –
Let’s look at paragraphs 8 and 11 of the Open Standards Statement. Paragraph
8 states that the future of the global infrastructure for ICT standards is in
jeopardy - that ICT standards are being privatized that will ultimately hurt
consumer choice, equitable access, competition and innovation.
I first spoke about the problem of accessibility being privatized and the
need for accessibility to not be proprietary in my Digital Divide Paper
commissioned by President Clinton’s administration in 1999. That paper is
entitled the Growing Digital Divide in Access for People with Disabilities:
Overcoming Barriers to Participation. Open standards for accessible design would
also assist with another serious issue – interoperability for assistive
technology. You may not be aware that a serious controversy arose when the State
of Massachusetts announced that Open document Format would be the new standard
for all files as of January 1, 2007. The community of persons with disabilities
were extremely vocal because there was no existing technology that would enable
screenreaders to read documents in Open Document Format and demanded that this
problem be addressed. A request for bids or a tender was offered and a solution
was quickly developed in the marketplace. As a result, the State now funds a
technology lab to test all technology procurements to ensure that they are
accessible to persons with disabilities.
Paragraph 11 talks about how open standards enable greater diffusion of
technology and more equitable and affordable access to ICT. Quote “The failing
health of the ICT standards ecosystem thus disproportionately hurts developing
countries, which can ill afford the constraints on consumer choice and
competition that are the results of this failure.”
This problem with the ICT standards ecosystem is evidenced by the passage of
the UN Convention and its attention to accessible design of ICT. The failure of
ICT standards is also found in the United States Section 508 legislation
mandating that the US federal government procure accessible technology. A civil
rights mandate wrapped around a procurement requirement had to be legislated in
order to meet our needs.
Moving on to the Online Collaboration Dynamic Community – a
community participation website for the use of stakeholders for providing best
practices and tools, among other things; the website is not designed to be
accessible. This means that even though the goal of the website to provide a
forum for remote participation in the activities of the Internet Governance
Forum, persons with disabilities cannot participate. This barrier could be
overcome by implementing accessible web design using industry technical
guidelines recommended by the World Wide Web Consortium Web Accessibility
Initiative – W3C WCAG 1.0.
I then took a look at the StopSpam Alliance –
another Dynamic Coalition dedicated to combating spam and other security
threats. I wondered if the coalition was aware that the use of captchas
is another barrier that prevents people using screenreaders from being
able to enter a website secured in this manner. Captchas are a type of
challenge-response test used to determine whether the visitor is human
in order to prevent spammers from entering the website. Humans with
screenreaders cannot get through.
Another one – Dynamic Coalition on Privacy. Did you know
there are specific disability rights laws the protect privacy of persons with
disabilities? Is this disability dimension being addressed?
Another one - Access and Connectivity for Remote, Rural and Dispersed
Communities – here I find their website referring to persons with
disabilities who benefit in telecommuting – You guys are right on!
And the Dynamic Coalition for Internet Bill of Rights –
rights and duties of Internet users - Will you be addressing the principles in
the UN Convention on Rights of Persons with Disabilities and the mandates for
And the Dynamic Coalition for Access to Knowledge at IGF, -
a coalition providing online access to knowledge and best practices – again, are
you addressing accessible web design and accessible open document, for example?
Finally, the Framework of Principles for the Internet – a
Dynamic Coalition addressing global public policy for the internet and hard and
soft law, are you including the UN Convention mandate for Internet accessibility
and universal design?
Some here may see other related issues not mentioned and so I offer this
proposal for your consideration. I would also like to refer you to my September
2007 paper commissioned by the International Telecommunication Union on ICT
access and service needs for persons with disabilities. It discusses best
practices and provides a global snapshot of the situation. Thank You.
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