Arab Accessibility Legislation and Initiatives

The active participation of Arab countries in shaping digital accessibility is particularly evident in two key initiatives: the 2013 Marrakesh Treaty and the 2007 Cairo Declaration on Supporting Access to Information and Communication Technology Services for Persons with Disabilities. The Marrakesh Treaty establishes lenient restrictions on traditional copyright laws to allow reproduction of published books in formats accessible by people with blindness or visual impairments. Several Arab countries have endorsed and signed the Treaty (table 8).

Table 8. Arab signatory countries to the Marrakesh Treaty

Party Signature Instrument In force
Jordan June 2013 Ratification: 2018 September 2018
Lebanon June 2013    
Morocco June 2013 Ratification: 2019 August 2019
Qatar   Accession: 2018 January 2019
Saudi Arabia   Accession: 2018 February 2019
Sudan June 2013    
Tunisia June 2013 Ratification: September 2016 December 2016
United Arab Emirates   Accession: October 2014 September 2016

Source: WIPO-Administered Treaties, 2017.

The Cairo Declaration was issued at a regional conference on best practices in ICT services for persons with disabilities. The 57 countries attending the conference, including 14 Arab countries, called upon Governments to play a more active role in developing local national strategies and policies on disability. They also called on Governments to adhere to CRPD and supply accurate and up-to-date statistics on disability. The Declaration calls for the exemption of ICT devices and assistive equipment from all taxes and customs duties for persons with disabilities, and to facilitate the use, design and implementation of Arabic-based user-friendly software for persons with disabilities.

However, according to the G3ict ranking, Arab countries ranked low in 2018 with the exception of Oman that ranked first worldwide, and Qatar that ranked fifth. However, in the 2020 rankings, Qatar came first, and Oman dropped to number 16. Table 9 shows the rankings of Arab countries according to G3ict, government sites responsible for disability and if e-accessibility is mentioned in a policy or a strategy. Surprisingly, some countries have no data and thus no G3ict rank. Table 9 also shows that all Arab countries have mentioned digital accessibility in one way or another in their digital policies or strategies for digital transformation and inclusion.

Table 9. Rankings, government sites and e-accessibility inclusion

Country Global ranking2020 Global ranking2018 Government websites: disability inclusion E-accessibility mentioned in an ICT policy/strategy
Qatar 1 5 Ministry of Administrative Development Labour and Social Affairs X
Oman 16 1 Persons with Disabilities X
Egypt 25 27 National Council for Persons with Disabilities X
Algeria 43 36 X
Yemen 69 42 X
Lebanon 103 78 National Council for Disability Affairs X
Morocco 62 78 Ministry of Solidarity, Social Development, Equality, and Family X
Iraq 82 84 Commission for the Care of People with Disabilities and Special Needs X
Tunisia 91 78 X
State of Palestine 106 87 Ministry of Social Development X
Jordan 26 NA Higher Council for the Rights of Persons with Disabilities  
Bahrain NA NA High Committee for Disabled Affairs X
Kuwait NA NA Public Authority of the Disabled X
Saudi Arabia NA NA Council for the Care of PWDs X
Syrian Arab Republic NA NA Central Council for Disability Affairs Services for PWDs X
Sudan NA NA National Council for Persons with Disabilities X
United Arab Emirates NA NA People of Determination X

Source: Collected from official websites.

Governments and civil society organizations in the Arab region are focusing on web accessibility and on implementing their own recommendations to achieve W3C requirements. Some use particular parts of the new standards or guidelines, while others are still using old guidelines in the design of their websites. No Arab country has enforced a law on Government or private-sector websites to comply with any e-accessibility standard or guidelines. For example, the e-government programme of Saudi Arabia (Yesser) issued a recommendation and detailed guidelines for website design that include important sections on e-accessibility, but compliance is voluntary. Similar recommendations issued by the Central Bank of Kuwait on web accessibility include sound guidelines for people with visual and hearing impairments and for public websites to ensure equal participation by persons with disabilities. In Morocco, the Ministry of Solidarity, Social Development, Equality, and Family built its own site based on WCAG2.0 guidelines. However, the Ministry does not impose design guidelines on any other governmental or non-governmental entities.

Another example is Jordanian law No. 20 of 2017 on the rights of persons with disabilities.[1] Article 40 calls on all media organizations to facilitate the granting and renewal of licensing requirement for persons with disabilities in accordance with international regulations, and to ensure access for persons with disabilities to all media materials.[2] The Ministry of Digital Economy and Entrepreneurship issued the Jordanian Government’s website checklist to allow Government institutions to review planned guidance activities, in accordance with the Government of Jordan Web Standards and Guidelines 2019,[3] so as to make Jordanian Government websites more usable, user-centric and universally accessible.