ATI and disability rights

The importance of access to information (ATI) as an internationally recognised human right for all, including for persons with disabilities, has long been acknowledged. However, the realisation of this right for those with disabilities remains a challenge.
Last update: 21 avril 2022

The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, pledging to “endeavour to reach the furthest behind first”, calls upon countries to ensure the full and equal participation of persons with disabilities in all spheres of society and to create enabling environments by, for and with persons with disabilities, in accordance with the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD).

 

… when accessible information and communications are not available, a range of persons with different disabilities cannot effectively benefit from public policies and programmes.
Catalina Devandas-Aguilar, Former UN Special Rapporteur on the rights of persons with disabilities, the 71st Session of UN General Assembly, 2016.

The CRPD recognises that civil and political rights, including the right to information, are a vital prerequisite for persons with disabilities to overcome histories of exclusion. First, the CPRD discusses equality for persons with disabilities in accessing information. Second, it places the right to information in the context of disability accessibility.[1]

In the same spirit, Article 21 explicitly states that “States Parties shall take all appropriate measures to ensure that persons with disabilities can exercise the right to freedom of expression and opinion, including the freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas on an equal basis with others and through all forms of communication of their choice […]”.

ATI laws in several countries acknowledge the importance of accessibility to information by persons with disabilities. Based on an analysis for the 127 countries with ATI laws in 2020[2], 37 countries explicitly refer to persons with disabilities and their rights, to varying degrees.[3] The common themes in these legislations relate to placing a request for access to information, forms in which access is provided, conditions for delivery of accessible formats, and provision of further assistance to persons with disabilities. With regard to placing a request for access to information, 11 countries allow applicants with disabilities to submit an oral request where a written one would normally be required.[4] Additionally, six countries require the information provider to assist the person with disabilities in submitting the request when their disability prevents them from doing so in a manner generally prescribed by the law.[5]

Of the 11 countries that specifically mention the provision of information to persons with disabilities in an accessible format, 10 use broad wording that refers to an “alternative format” or a similar concept. Of these, three limit the provision of alternative formats to conditions such as cost, as well as time and copyright law restrictions. One country only refers to content accessibility for persons with disabilities when information is provided on websites.

The above figures highlight the challenges for effective access to information for persons with disabilities. First and foremost, it is evident that the rights of persons with disabilities are absent from most ATI legislations. Where reference is made to persons with disabilities and accessibility of information, the scope of the disabilities covered and the rights secured for persons with disabilities are rather limited, or not always clear. Furthermore, the research showed that effective accessibility criteria are missing from many existing legislative frameworks, or that their implementation is hindered by factors such as inadequate awareness and training around the rights of persons with disabilities and insufficient funding. Ignoring the issues of cost or imposing restrictive conditions on access for persons with disabilities are amongst the challenges highlighted when assessing the existing ATI legislation. Finally, the lack of appeal and oversight mechanisms and meaningful data on the state of accessibility for persons with disabilities also act as obstacles for provision of satisfactory information accessibility.

 


[1] CRPD, articles 9(1) and 21(a).

[2] As recorded by UNESCO in 2020.

[3] These countries are Afghanistan, Antigua, Azerbaijan, Bangladesh, Brazil, Bulgaria, Burkina Faso, Canada, Colombia, Ethiopia, Fiji, Ghana, India, Ireland, Kazakhstan, Kenya, Liberia, Malawi, Maldives, Mexico, Montenegro, Mozambique, Nicaragua, Nigeria, Pakistan, Sierra Leon, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Seychelles, South Africa, Sudan, Tanzania, Tunisia, Uganda, Ukraine, Vanuatu, and Vietnam.

[4] These countries are Afghanistan, Antigua, Azerbaijan, Ethiopia, Ghana, Maldives, Saint Kitts and Nevis, South Africa, Sudan, Tanzania, and Uganda.

[5] These countries are Kenya, Liberia, Pakistan, Seychelles, Ukraine, and Vietnam.

Shortfalls of national provisions on ATI and disability issues

(Based on an assessment of 37 national legislation with provisions on the rights of persons with disabilities)

  1. Reference to the rights of persons with disabilities is vague and brief.
  2. The legislation does not provide a sufficiently comprehensive application of accessibility criteria to all government information.
  3. The legislation does not clarify the scope of disabilities subject to the Act or is restrictive regarding the disabilities covered.
  4.  The legislation only refers to the submission of a request for access to information for persons with disabilities but not the provision of such access.
  5. The legislation only covers direct requests for information by persons with disabilities without covering proactive disclosure.
  6. The legislation does not cover the issue of the cost of making information accessible to persons with disabilities.
  7. The legislation imposes restrictive conditions on provision of access to information for persons with disabilities.
  8. The legislation does not provide for appeal and oversight mechanisms in relation to access to information for persons with disabilities.

Monitoring of Indicator 16.10.2 provides an opportunity for countries and other concerned stakeholders to improve actual implementation of the provisions of normative instruments such as the CRPD. Countries should consider steps towards an inclusive and comprehensive legislative framework containing minimum mandatory accessibility standards that ensure access to information for persons with disabilities, without discrimination based on type of disability, geographical location, financial means, and language capabilities, among other factors.