Thursday, November 12, 2015

Right to Accessible Information for Global Citizenship: UNESCO’s Programme for Persons with Disabilities

Photo by Carlo Di-Giulio
On October 27th, the European Union Center and the Center for Global Studies co-sponsored the Annual Mortenson Center's Distinguished Lecture, "Right to Accessible Information for Global Citizenship: UNESCO's Programme for Persons with Disabilities.   This article was written by Carlo Di-Giulio, a graduate assistant at the European Union Center.  

In times when comprehensive information is available to us in just a few clicks, and opening a webpage becomes easier and faster every day, we might forget that around the world, accessibility is still an issue for many. We should take a few minutes to think about how disabilities can change everyday life – digital access included – for those who are affected. We should consider how many people suffer because of access limitations around the world and how those numbers are evolving. Then, we may want to think about all the barriers that a person can encounter when trying to access information.

People with disabilities represented the 10% of the global population in the 1970s, and today the number has increased to 15%. The idea that one billion people have a disability around the world really pushes us to seriously consider ways to guarantee everyone full access to services and information.

Linguistic barriers are another limit to accessibility. In a global environment like the Internet, multilingualism might be necessary to avoid exclusion. Curiously if we think about it, it does not represent a problem only for language speaking minorities. If the English language is widely used online as the most common one, and an English-only website is not accessible to a non-English speaker, valuable information contained in foreign websites (take as an example news about a local conflict, or about specific national policies), might be out of reach even for the language speaking majority.

Especially in today's world, accessibility has to be considered a Human Right. A limitation in accessing the Internet is a barrier to accessing information and knowledge. The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) is actively working for improving accessibility all around the world.  They are trying to reduce barriers that can foster poverty, exclusion, illiteracy, unemployment, and many other problems that impede harmonized development and true global participation. Workshops, conferences and other initiatives aim to sensitize governments, companies and even public opinion.

Furthermore, UNESCO is actively producing recommendations and guidelines in order to set global standards on accessibility. The ultimate goal is to achieve a world where any person can feel involved in the world where he or she lives. Access to information, knowledge and consciousness of the global environment is the only way to become a real global citizen.

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