Executive Summary

International programmes for the inclusion of persons with disabilities have resulted in significant achievements under the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD), and the Marrakesh Treaty to Facilitate Access to Published Works for Persons Who Are Blind, Visually Impaired or Otherwise Print Disabled. This momentum is driven by advancements in information and communications technology (ICT), which is taking a leading role in finding creative solutions to integrate marginalized groups and provide fair access to information for persons with disabilities. However, social and economic inequalities in many parts of the world, including the Arab region, are adversely impacting the inclusion of persons with disabilities, despite technological advancements in many of these countries. In addition, political unrest and armed conflict in some Arab countries, including Iraq, Libya, the Syrian Arab Republic, and Yemen, and economic challenged in countries such as Egypt, Jordan and Lebanon, negatively affect the circumstances of people with disabilities.

To address shortfalls in including persons with disabilities in the Arab region, the present report was developed as part of the Arab Digital Inclusion Platform (ADIP) of the Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA) to support policymakers in developing or improving national technical guidelines on e-accessibility. Based on sound and practical international standards, the present report proposes a wide range of guidelines to improve the lives of persons with disabilities.

The present report provides an overview of the status of e-accessibility at the global level in view of CRPD and the 2030 Agenda, and assesses the work of various countries in promoting e-accessibility and digital inclusion of persons with disabilities. It also provides country rankings in terms of their commitment to international agreements on involving people with disability in public life without discrimination, and harnessing technology to integrate them in society. In addition, it reviews the achievements made by the European Union at the legislative level, and the implementation of international principles and guidelines.

The 2019 European Accessibility Act is a major achievement in making Europe an accessible place for persons with disabilities by enforcing the implementation of e-accessibility requirements in all e-services and digital platforms. With a focus on government websites, e-books and e-commerce websites, the requirements cover a range of products, including regular general-purpose computers and popular technologies such as smartphones, smart televisions, IP televisions, and e-readers. For example, by 2021, all mobile applications in European Union countries must comply with the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0. The present report also identifies the main international technical standards and guidelines for enhancing access by persons with disabilities to ICT devices, services, websites, and tools.

The present report then examines the commitment and current status of digital accessibility in the Arab region, and efforts by member States to include persons with disabilities. Although all Arab countries are signatories to CRPD, some countries have not ratified the convention or the optional protocol. However, all Arab countries have a responsible governmental organization that oversees the progress of issues related to persons with disabilities, either through social development ministries or independent councils. Overall, Arab countries have similar challenges and opportunities for e-accessibility, with minor differences at the local level. However, absence of reliable data and accurate statistics on disability make it difficult to objectively evaluate disability, and hinder many opportunities for assistance from international, non-governmental and local institutions. Nevertheless, the legislative commitment of Arab Governments to the overall issue of disability is seen by many as an enabler to promote digital accessibility. Other positive indicators, such as high Internet penetration rates and smartphone use among young people, who are often educated and passionate about technology, promote the role of ICT in e-accessibility.

The present report concludes with technical guideline templates on e-accessibility adoption in the Arab region. The templates cover web accessibility, mobile accessibility and public service terminals accessibility. All templates are based on the latest international standards and guidelines. In addition, a minimal requirement template is provided for countries or organizations that prefer to not adopt the implementation and compliance process.