Biopsychosocial Health Unit Researcher Attends Research Visit to the World Health Organization
Geneva, 18th January, 2016
Marie Curie Fellow and doctoral researcher on the BETTER project, Renaldo Bernard, from the Research Unit for Biopsychosocial Health recently attended a one-week research visit to the WHO from the 11th to 16th of January, 2016. The visit involved conducting secondary research and assisting the WHO’s team to develop an official response to the United Nations International Telecommunication Unit’s Council Working Group in International Internet related Public Policy Issues (CWG-Internet) open online consultation. The consultation gave an opportunity to stakeholders — governments, international and local organisations, enterprise — from all nations to express their views on access to the Internet for persons with disabilities and specific needs. Over 40 responses were submitted by the end of the consultation.
The WHO’s contribution noted that despite all efforts by governments and other major stakeholders to ensure access to the Web by persons with disabilities, there are still some challenges to be addressed. The Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) works to ensure the right to access to communications technology is preserved for persons with disabilities on the Web and has produced several international standards designed to improve the accessibility of content on the Web and applications involved in its design and use. The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0 is one of the WAI’s most successful standards and has even gained approval from the International Organization for Standardization. Moreover, many countries have seen merit in instituting compliance to the WCAG as a requirement for government and in some cases non-governmental websites as well. However, the WHO’s response identified some of the persisting challenges hampering access to the Web including a lack of Web skills and informed use among persons with disabilities, and adequate accommodation for them on the Web that should be addressed.
Promising approaches adopted by the WAI and researchers in the field to improve access to the Web by persons with disabilities were critically reviewed to highlight good practice and areas for improvement. The WAI's consensus based guideline development process has great merit as well as the relatively prompt, responsive and evidence-based guidance provided by research-based approaches (e.g., Beyond ALT Text: Usability for Disabled Users’ guidelines). Nonetheless, efforts to encourage more participation by persons with disabilities during the guideline development process and more systematic Web accessibility related research are needed.
This contribution directed governments to adopt the pragmatic framework of progressive realisation by assessing their current state of affairs and devising meaningful and feasible steps towards the goal of making the Web accessible for all. Developed strategies are to incorporate several key elements including efforts to: strengthen links between key stakeholders (e.g., government, Web accessibility professionals and researchers, and those with disabilities); ensure increased compliance to standards (e.g., WAI guidelines); fund research to accommodate a wider range of disabilities, such as those experienced by people with mental disorders; and to empower persons with disabilities.
The report can be accessed from the UN IT CWG-Internet Online Open Consultation (October 2015- January 2016) webpage - http://www.itu.int/en/council/cwg-internet/Pages/display-oct2015.aspx?ListItemID=49. Visit http://www.itu.int/en/council/cwg-internet/Pages/consultation-oct2015.aspx to learn more about the open online consultation. Renaldo has expressed sincere thanks to the WHO’s Disability and Rehabilitation team for hosting his visit and the opportunity to participate in the open consultation.