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Leaving No One Behind: Integrating Disability Rights in the Global Digital Compact

Leaving No One Behind: Integrating Disability Rights in the Global Digital Compact

by: Dr. Muhammad Shabbir – April 4, 2024

The Zero Draft of the UN Global Digital Compact serves as a precursor to the final document, slated for official endorsement by Member States at the “Summit of the Future” in September 2024. Key highlights encompass leveraging digital technology to advance Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), fostering inclusive governance frameworks, ensuring geographic representation, and fortifying cooperation to address digital divides and cybersecurity challenges.

While the Global Digital Compact articulates lofty aspirations and commitments toward forging an inclusive, open, safe, and secure digital landscape, it is imperative to scrutinize its provisions through the lens of persons with disabilities to guarantee their full participation and benefit.

Prioritizing Accessibility:

Although the document underscores digital inclusion and accessibility at various junctures, it falls short in comprehensively addressing the needs of persons with disabilities. There is a pressing need to incorporate specific measures to ensure that digital content, platforms, and services are accessible to all individuals, regardless of their abilities. This entails strict adherence to established accessibility standards like the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) and the seamless integration of assistive technologies to facilitate access for individuals with diverse disabilities.

Empowering through Digital Literacy and Skills Development:

The commitment to bolstering digital literacy and skills development is commendable; however, it must explicitly cater to the needs of persons with disabilities. This necessitates the implementation of targeted programs and resources tailored to ensure equitable access to digital education and skill-building opportunities for individuals with disabilities. Additionally, providing training materials in accessible formats and addressing specific training requirements related to assistive technology and adaptive strategies are paramount.

Ensuring Equitable Connectivity and Infrastructure:

Acknowledging the pivotal role of universal internet connectivity, it’s imperative to recognize the unique challenges faced by persons with disabilities in accessing digital infrastructure. Particularly, in the developing world where a significant portion of persons with disabilities reside, ensuring accessibility considerations in digital infrastructure investments is crucial. This includes provisions for accessible hardware, software, and connectivity solutions, alongside prioritizing the inclusion of persons with disabilities in the formulation and execution of digital connectivity strategies.

Promoting Inclusive Data Disaggregation and Representation:

While the commitment to conducting national digital inclusion surveys is laudable, there remains a critical need for disaggregated data encompassing persons with disabilities. Addressing the prevalent underreporting and miscalculations in certain countries regarding persons with disabilities is imperative. Thus, advocating for the inclusion of disability-related indicators in data collection efforts is essential to accurately assess the digital inclusion status of persons with disabilities. Additionally, ensuring that data collection methods are accessible and inclusive is paramount for meaningful participation by individuals with diverse disabilities.

Fostering Meaningful Multi-stakeholder Engagement:

Recognizing the significance of multi-stakeholder engagement and participation, it’s crucial to prioritize the active involvement of organizations representing persons with disabilities in decision-making processes related to digital cooperation. Embracing the principle of ‘nothing about us without us,’ integrating the voices and perspectives of persons with lived experiences of disabilities into policy development, implementation, and monitoring efforts is indispensable.

In conclusion, while the Global Digital Compact articulates commendable objectives and principles, there is an unequivocal need for more explicit recognition and integration of the needs and rights of persons with disabilities. By embedding accessibility considerations across all facets of digital cooperation, the Compact can authentically realize its vision of fostering an inclusive digital future for all.

The author is Coordinator of the IGF’s Dynamic Coalition on Accessibility and Disability (DCAD) and can be contacted on X: @MShabbirPhD