EU adopts the UN convention on the rights of persons with disabilities

7th January 2011 by
Léonie Watson

On Wednesday 5th January the United Nations (UN) Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities was
ratified by the European Union (EU). The convention was adopted by the UN on 13th December 2006 and opened for signatures on 30th March 2007. It was an historic moment for human rights, and
we were proud to be part of the UN’s activities.

The UN asked us to create a research programme that would give them unique insights into web accessibility around the world. At the time it was one of the most challenging projects we’d worked on, but it was a fantastic opportunity and we enjoyed every minute of it!

We evaluated 100 websites from 20 UN member countries. The websites were chosen because of their high profile within the travel, politics, finance, retail and media sectors of each nation. The idea was to look at the websites most likely to be used by people with disabilities in their daily lives.

We faced websites in several different languages, and even a couple of different alphabets! It was fascinating to discover how culture influences the meaning of colours, symbols and other elements of a web page.

The UN Global Web Accessibility Audit report was officially launched at a UN press conference on 5th December 2006. Simon Norris and I had the glorious pleasure of travelling to New York to give the press conference, where we were joined by many folks from the industry including IBM and the W3C.

Perhaps unsurprisingly for the time, the report found that accessibility levels varied dramatically across nations. Time, technology and the world have
moved on in the intervening years though, and should we repeat the research it’s possible we’d find a different picture in 2011.

The UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities was the first convention of the 21st century. There were 82 signatories to the convention, 44 to the optional protocol, and one ratification, on the first day alone. It was the highest number of signatories ever recorded on the first day for any UN convention in history!

Nearly four years later the EU has adopted the convention, which continues to gain support around the world. It continues to act as a torch for human rights that shines its light even on this digital corner of our world. The then Secretary General of the UN Kofi Annan perhaps said it best:

Access to information and communication technologies creates opportunities for all people, perhaps none more so than persons with disabilities. As the development of the Internet and these technologies takes their needs more fully into account, the barriers of prejudice, infrastructure and inaccessible formats need no longer stand in the way of participation.

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