On April 3rd, the UNâ€™s Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) received the necessary 20 member state ratifications for the Treaty to move into implementation. The CRDP will go into effect May 3rd. You can access the CRDP at http://www.un.org/disabilities/
This comprehensive human rights treaty provides many fundamental rights to those with disabilities. Among the sections of the 50-article Treaty are explicit references to the accessibility of information and communications. The most prominent is Article 9 – “Accessibility”, which places accessibility of information, communication, and technologies (ICT) at the same level as Articles on “The right to life”, “Equal recognition before the law”, “Access to justice”, and “Freedom from torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment”. You can see that accessible ICT is being taken very seriously.
One of the General obligations of States Parties (Article 4) is “To undertake or promote research and development of universally designed goods, services, equipment and facilitiesâ€¦” and “To undertake or promote research and development of, and to promote the availability and use of new technologies, including information and communications technologiesâ€¦”
Once in effect on May 3rd, this new international law will apply to only those countries that have both signed and ratified the CRPD (currently 23 and rising). Over a hundred additional countries have signed onto the Convention. For now, their work is to align their national legislation to the CRPD. Thus, countries such as Japan, Canada, S. Korea, Australia, China, and the United Kingdom are expected to ratify when they complete this internal process, which may take a few years.
There will be no force in effect for those countries that have neither signed nor ratified the CRPD, such as the U.S. It is interesting to me that our government has not signed the Convention, even to underscore its importance in principle. Our nation currently sits in a minority of countries who have not signed, such as Iraq, Haiti, the Congo, and Fiji. U.S. officials have indicated that domestic laws, especially the ADA, are stronger than those of the CRPD. However, how many of us are aware of unequivocal rights in the U.S. to accessible information and communications technologies in both public and private sectors? Many are calling on all Americans to sign a petition in support of the U.S. becoming a signatory to the CRPD.
It is not possible for me to convey how important this event is on a worldwide stage, not just for electronic accessibility efforts, but also for the broad human rights issues that face those with disabilities, particularly in developing countries. Perhaps my fervor for this can’t be separated from the more general issues of human rights and discrimination that those with disabilities face worldwide. For those interested in the rights of persons with disabilities I urge you to read the Preamble for the Convention and its General Principles. They are compelling beyond words. Finally, the world has a chance to enact these principles.
For those of us passionate about making the world a more accessible place, now is the time to help in the global transformation. The basic human right to access information and communication can happen in our lifetime, if we work together. The ratification of this treaty is a major step forward in this process. The important thing here is not that the train has left the station, but that it is well down the track.