Editor’s note: This article is by Frances West, Worldwide Director, IBM
Human Ability and Accessibility Center
I was honored to testify to the
U.S. Senate Committee on Foreign Relations on Thursday, Nov. 21 to discuss IBM’s point of view on
the proposed U.S. ratification of the U.N. Convention on the Rights of Persons
with Disabilities (UNCRPD).
UNCRPD mandates that people with disabilities should have the full rights and
freedoms enjoyed by other citizens worldwide, including equal access to
employment, healthcare, education, transportation and technology.
it establishes the first universal framework for accessible ICT (Information
and Communications Technology). Understanding that technology is the great
equalizer for under-served populations. The UNCRPD authoring committee adopted
this framework to provide governments and businesses worldwide with a clear
roadmap towards inclusive ICT that can benefit all individuals, including
people with disabilities.
of today, 138 countries worldwide have ratified the UNCRPD to advance
the full societal inclusion of people with disabilities. Currently, the United States, a world leader in
disability and accessibility policy, has signed, but not ratified this treaty.
is our view that the UNCRPD will advance the marketplace for accessible ICT, harmonize international technology standards
and create policies and procurement regulations that benefit the U.S. economy, businesses and individual citizens.
The need to improve accessible technology
Global demand for
accessibility continues to increase, due in part to the strengthening voice of
more than one billion people with disabilities worldwide; the
organizations that advance their interests; and influential human rights
treaties like the UNCRPD. However, other parallel disruptive trends are also
driving unprecedented marketplace demand, making accessibility a mainstream
requirement for governments and businesses around the globe.
For example, today a
significant percentage of the world’s population — more than 800 million
people — are over the age of 60. And while half of those over the age of 65 have some form of
age-related disability — such as diminished sight, hearing or mobility — they
typically do not consider themselves disabled.
From a technology perspective, mobile and
smart device adoption is transforming how, when and where we communicate. Last
year, mobile phone subscriptions worldwide surpassed 6.4 billion. These users — more than 1 billion of whom
are mobile workers — are impacted by environmental challenges that render them
“situationally disabled,” such as workers taking conference calls in public spaces
with loud ambient noise or employees who need hands- and eyes-free access while
The drive to improve accessible technology
Finally, emerging human-centric
technologies such as smart TVs, wearable devices and next-generation
augmented reality — a technology that is expected to grow from about 6 million users to 2.5 billion by 2017 — will continue to transform the technology
Enabling widespread access to, and
innovation for, these technologies will depend in large part on the ongoing
integration of flexible, adaptive, intuitive and accessible technology
is for these reasons that IBM, which for 100 years has advanced research in accessibility for people with disabilities, the aging
population, novice technology users, and people with language, learning, and
literacy challenges, supports the
UNCRPD and its underlying principles.
The end result will be
smarter, more connected, inclusive and accessible societies for all of us. That is an
outcome worth aspiring to, and a goal worth pursuing together.
Labels: accessibility, crpd, disabilities, frances west, human-centric, ibm research, ict, persons with disabilities, uncrpd, united nations