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Strengthening Accessibility through Global Coordination

by: Jamal Mazrui, Deputy Director, Accessibility and Innovation Initiative

November 24, 2010

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In 2006, the United Nations agreed on the language of a treaty known as the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD). The treaty is going through a process of signing and ratification among many countries. In 2009, President Obama signed it in honor of the 19th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

A related endeavor is called G3ict, a public-private partnership encouraging policies to ensure that information and communication technologies (ICT) are accessible to people with disabilities. Such ICT can equalize opportunities for independent living, social inclusion, higher education, and gainful employment — empowering people everywhere, and especially in developing countries.

As part of a collaboration with G3ict, George Washington University hosted a policy forum last week. Leaders in ICT policy from around the world convened with partners from the U.S. government, industry, and consumer groups. Karen Peltz Strauss, Elizabeth Lyle, and I were able to participate on behalf of the FCC. This is an exciting time period in which unprecedented coordination is occurring among ICT-related proceedings to set accessibility standards and policy, such as those related to Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act, Titles II and III of the Americans with Disabilities Act, and the 21st Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act. We all shared perspectives, identified problems, and brainstormed solutions.

The ideas and connections were invigorating. Let me highlight some common themes as follows:

  • Market and technology trends are integrating life globally.
  • Harmonizing accessibility standards at that level is mutually beneficial among nations.
  • Technology products and services may be designed with unified specifications that prepare them for all markets.
  • Industries and consumers benefit from economies of scale that lower cost and broaden reach.
  • Consistent policies reduce government administration.
  • Universal design of 21st century technologies increases productivity of workers in economies, and participation by citizens in democracies.

So, do you recall what CRPD and ICT stand for? They are certainly not household abbreviations at present, but many of us hope their meaning will become part of everyday life in the future!

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