Accessibility Policy Has Moved Onto the Global Stage

The following blog post was written by James Thurston – Director of International Accessibility Policy at Microsoft. James works with Microsoft’s global subsidiaries, NGOs, and governments around the world to develop public policies that support broad digital inclusion.


When I joined Microsoft seven years ago to work on global accessibility policy I thought: ‘Is there even enough activity around the world to keep me busy?’  Policymaking was largely centered in the United States, the European Union, and a small number of other countries. 

What a difference seven years makes.

In July, I attended one of my favorite events and it confirmed that accessibility policy is no longer something that happens only in Washington and Brussels. It was the sixth gathering of the 125 countries that signed the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, where leaders of disability work get together to share their experiences implementing the convention.

What drove this change?  At least four factors increased global interest and supported activity in accessibility policy:

  1. The 2008 UN Convention: The convention was the first human rights treaty of the 21st century, and the fastest to be adopted. It helped governments around the world to think about innovative and effective ways to comply with the convention’s articles, including those that deal with accessible technology.
  2. Civil Society:  Non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and disabled persons organizations (DPOs) played critical roles in raising awareness about disabilities and supporting effective public policies. There are far too many groups to list, but some good examples are: G3ict; Disabled Peoples International; International Disability Alliance; BarrierBreak in India; MADA Center in Qatar; Once in Spain; and the China Disabled Persons Federation.
  3. Leading Countries: Some countries led the way by creating accessibility policies that served as examples for others, such as Section 508 of the Americans with Disabilities Act in the United States and the Stanca Law in Italy.
  4. Strong Standards:  Development of international technical standards provided a strong foundation for effective public policies.  A great example is ISO/IEC 40500:2012. This international standard for web accessibility was referenced by the European Commission in its proposed directive for public sector web accessibility.

After all of the progress, I can’t wait to see what the next seven years brings.

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