IGF 2019 WS #166 Digital accessibility for PWDs: When rhetoric meets reality?

Organizer 1: Muhammad Shabbir, ISOC Islamabad Pakistan Chapter
Organizer 2: Gunela Astbrink, Internet Society Accessibility Special Interest Group
Organizer 3: Judith Hellerstein, H&A

Speaker 1: Muhammad Shabbir, Civil Society, Asia-Pacific Group
Speaker 2: Shadi Abou-Zahra, Technical Community, Western European and Others Group (WEOG)
Speaker 3: Andrea Saks, Civil Society, Western European and Others Group (WEOG)
Speaker 4: Vint Cerf, Private Sector, Western European and Others Group (WEOG)
Speaker 5: Brian Scarpelli, Private Sector, Western European and Others Group (WEOG)

Policy Question(s): 

1. What real impact has international guidelines and standards had on improving digital accessibility for people with disability?
2. How can we move to accessible design as a core feature rather than an added extra?
3. What are ways to increase understanding by policy-makers, industry and the technical community of the societal and economic benefits of digital inclusion for people with disability?
4. To what extent have instruments such as the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and the Sustainable Development Goals had an impact on digital accessibility?

Relevance to Theme: Accessibility for people with disability is a fundamental aspect of digital inclusion. With over 1.3 billion people globally living with a disability, this has been called the world’s largest minority group. By not embracing the digital needs of people with disability, there can be no digital inclusion. The issue is even more relevant in the global south where people with disability may face additional burdens of poverty as well as social and cultural barriers. Moreover, there are number of international and national instruments and guidelines drafted that promote digital inclusion. But sometimes policy and rhetoric may differ when it comes to real actions.

Through real digital inclusion, people with disability will not only be users but also creators of content and tools that meet our needs. This has a flow-on effect to help create a more equitable society overall.

Relevance to Internet Governance: Every part of the multi-stakeholder community has a role and responsibility in terms of Internet Governance to ensure that we move beyond the rhetoric to create real digital accessibility for people with disability. These are some examples:

International bodies: The rights of people with disability are enshrined in the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities with accessibility to ICT specifically addressed in Article 9. SDGs refer to people with disability in a number of its goals.

Governments: Governments have a key role to implement accessibility policies through clearly defined and funded programs.

Technical community: Understanding the rationale behind existing international standards and guidelines such as W3C’s Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG 2.0) creates more incentive to abide by the guidelines.

Private sector: Taking into account accessibility criteria in public procurement in a number of countries encourages industry to develop more accessible products and services.

Civil society: Non-profit organisations need to be heeded, supported and respected in their role to raise issues that affect society.


Round Table - U-shape - 60 Min

Description: The roundtable will demonstrate the rhetoric vs reality on digital accessibility for people with disabilities. The Roundtable will be in three parts.

In the first part, we will practically demonstrate how people with disabilities use digital technologies and what are the issues they may face while using digital devices and platforms that are developed without following the accessibility guidelines. For example, a blind person will demonstrate how he uses screen reading software with speech output to navigate websites. He will show the difference between an accessible web page and one that is inaccessible. Through the use of marked spectacles, participants in the roundtable will better recognise the needs of people with low vision. People with disability will show how complex and inconsistent user interfaces increase barriers. Hearing impairment and Deafness may affect one in six of the population and the many issues of communication will be raised. Physical disability such as limited or no hand movement will also be demonstrated in terms of using a mouse or keyboard.

The second part will be demonstrations by the private sector of tools that offer innovative solutions to some of the barriers raised by people with disability. People with disability will provide feedback on these tools.

The final and third part will be discussion by all participants, whether in the room or remote, of the policy questions on ways to move from rhetoric to reality in digital inclusion for people with disability.

In summary, the roundtable will offer:
- demonstrations of barriers by people with disability
- demonstrations of tools with innovative solutions by the private sector
- feedback by people of disability of these tools
- subsequent discussion of the policy questions by all participants on ways to move from rhetoric to reality in digital inclusion for people with disability

Each part of the roundtable will be allocated 30 minutes. The third part involving discussion will be moderated using the policy questions outlined. All participants will be encouraged to take an active part through strict moderation and time limits so that no person dominates the discussion.

Expected Outcomes: The roundtable is expected to build increased understanding and awareness in participants of the real-life barriers faced by people with disability when using technology through demonstrations.

The outcome of the discussion based on the policy questions should clarify how to move forwards on working to achieving increased digital inclusion for people with disability.

Onsite Moderator: 

Muhammad Shabbir, Civil Society, Asia-Pacific Group

Online Moderator: 

Judith Hellerstein, Private Sector, Western European and Others Group (WEOG)


Gunela Astbrink, Civil Society, Western European and Others Group (WEOG)

Discussion Facilitation: 

To build and reinforce learning, five questions about accessibility will be asked of participants at the beginning of the tutorial. The same five questions will be asked of participants at the end of the tutorial. The questions will be accessed via a link to online surveys and participants can answer the questions anonymously. Both on-site and remote participants will have equal access to the surveys.

Online Participation: 

Remote participants will be encouraged to participate. As people with disability and disability representatives often face hurdles of low incomes and limited resources to address competing issues, they may not afford the time and pressures of travel. Therefore, making remote participation as accessible as possible is vital.

As demonstrations will be part of this roundtable, there are additional challenges for remote participants. We will work to make this session as inclusive as possible with the available audio and video resources. Industry participants will be encouraged to consider solutions in future. Remote participants will be asked to give feedback on any accessibility issues that they face in terms of being part of the discussion.

Proposed Additional Tools: Based on the experience of Accessibility SIG that different tools are not accessible for different people with disabilities, and to make the workshop more accessible and inclusive, if need be, Zoom or Skype will be used.


GOAL 1: No Poverty
GOAL 3: Good Health and Well-Being
GOAL 4: Quality Education
GOAL 8: Decent Work and Economic Growth
GOAL 9: Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure
GOAL 10: Reduced Inequalities
GOAL 11: Sustainable Cities and Communities
GOAL 12: Responsible Production and Consumption
GOAL 16: Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions