World Intellectual Property Organization

Workshop Focuses on Improving Web Accessibility for Persons with Disabilities

Geneva, February 5, 2010
PR/2010/631

A workshop hosted by the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) from February 2 to 5, 2010, brought together over 180 persons from some 32 organizations to promote awareness about accessibility for people with disabilities and to encourage webmasters within the United Nations system and other organizations to implement principles of accessibility in their daily work.

The workshop, co-organized with the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), was opened by WIPO Director General Francis Gurry, who underlined the importance of accessibility in general and reaffirmed WIPO’s commitment to establishing an accessible web environment that promotes easy access to intellectual property information.
 
This, Mr. Gurry said, is in line with WIPO’s visually impaired persons (VIP) initiative launched in 2008 to explore ways to facilitate and enhance access to literary, artistic and scientific works for the VIP community. The initiative’s website – www.visionip.org – is dedicated to disseminating information and exchanging views on this subject to all interested parties. Mr. Gurry noted that only 5% of all published works are currently available in formats accessible to the VIP community. He said WIPO and its member states are actively seeking to improve this situation.
 
WIPO member states have acknowledged the special needs of the blind, visually impaired and other print-disabled persons. The Organization’s key copyright committee, the Standing Committee on Copyright and Related Rights (SCCR), is currently considering a draft treaty that would create an enabling legal environment to address exceptions and limitations to international copyright law . Also, a stakeholders’ platform hosted by WIPO brings together representatives of organizations representing the blind and visually impaired community and publishers to facilitate import-export of published works in a trusted and secure environment.
 
Noting that an estimated 650 million people live with disabilities worldwide, ITU Secretary-General Hamadoun Touré underlined the need to ensure that people with disabilities have access to the opportunities offered by information and communication technologies (ICT). “The key to the information society is universal access and no one should be denied the potential benefits of ICTs, not least because they are hampered by their disabilities,” Dr Touré said.  “ICTs have the great merit of serving as a powerful equalizer of abilities, empowering persons with disabilities to fulfil their potential, realize their own dreams and ambitions, and take their place as active members of society.” ITU focuses on a series of strategic issues ranging from the rights of the disabled, to making technical design standards accessible, to providing education and training on accessible ICTs.
 
Speaking at the opening session, Mr. Malcolm Johnson, Director of ITU’s standardization bureau highlighted the potential of ICTs in improving accessibility to persons with disabilities and noted that ITU has been “embracing the challenges of accessibility through standardization efforts and has long championed the principles of inclusion and Universal Design enshrined in the UN Convention.”
 
A first web accessibility workshop was hosted by WIPO in May 2009 following a request from the VIP community for WIPO to share its experience in implementing principles of accessibility. These workshops are in line with the United Nations Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities which entered into force on May 3, 2008.  Article 9 (g) and (h) of this Convention require that measures be taken to ensure that accessibility is taken into account in the design of new information technologies and systems. 
 
This week’s workshop brought together experts from the World Wide Web consortium, Mobile web initiative, Yahoo!, Adobe Systems Incorporated and the Royal National Institute for Blind People. The workshop also featured a full day of training sponsored by Adobe. 
 
Participants agreed on the need for an annual workshop to keep abreast of technological developments and to share knowledge and experience of the issue within the UN system. 
 
 

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