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Overview of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and its dispositions on ICT accessibility

Overview of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and its dispositions on ICT accessibility


Edited by Axel Leblois, Executive Director, G3ict. Contributor: Susan Schorr, Head, Special Initiatives Division, ITU Telecommunication Development Bureau (BDT)


Section Summary
The Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly on December 13, 2006; it has been signed by 159 countries and ratified by 157 countries (as of July 2015). In the Convention, Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs), both from a digital accessibility and assistive technologies standpoint, have been defined as an integral part of Accessibility Rights, on par with accessibility to the physical environment and transportation.

Background on the Convention
The Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly on December 13, 2006.  A major milestone for all persons living with disabilities around the world, it is the 8th Universal Convention on Human Rights and the first of this millennium. 159 countries have signed it and 157 have ratified it as of July 2015, making it an enforceable legal instrument since May 5, 2008 when the 20th ratification occurred.  

ICT Accessibility
A very innovative component of the Convention relates to dispositions concerning Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs), both from a digital accessibility and assistive technologies standpoint. Indeed, for the first time, ICT accessibility is defined as an integral part of Accessibility Rights, on par with accessibility to the physical environment and transportation:

"To enable persons with disabilities to live independently and participate fully in all aspects of life, States Parties shall take appropriate measures to ensure to persons with disabilities access, on an equal basis with others, to the physical environment, to transportation, to information and communications, including information and communications technologies and systems..." (Article 9). As a result of this definition of Accessibility, all the dispositions of the Convention defining the rights of persons with disabilities in specific areas of activity and which include the terms “accessible” or “accessibility” include all ICT products and ICT based applications and services, a far reaching implication for industry, governments and civil society.

The Convention thus directly addresses the risks of exclusion that the increasing usage of ICTs may create for persons living with disabilities in the areas of social, economic, political and cultural life. As of mid-2008, installed bases of major family of ICT products were as follows:

  • 1.1 billion personal computers*

  • 1.5 + billion Internet users (includes shared and mobile access)**

  • 1.3 billion telephone land lines**

  • 1.5 billion TV sets**

  • 1.8 billion text messaging users**

  • 2.4 billion radios***

  • 4 + billion cell phone subscribers**


* Source: Gartner Group
** Source: ITU World Telecommunication/Indicators database
*** Source: UNESCO

The Convention, however, also addresses the significant potential of ICTs in the area of new assistive solutions benefiting persons with disabilities. It includes important specific dispositions and guidance to States Parties in that regard.

This section covers:

  • The definitions which establish the legal foundation of ICT accessibility rights

  • The specific ICT accessibility and assistive technologies provisions which States Parties to the Convention are required to implement

  • Policies and programs to be addressed by areas of government


Suggested Reading
A presentation by the United Nations on the nature and various aspects of the UNCRPD. View Presentation.

(Last reviewed 08 July 2015)