Posted by Frank McCosker
General Manager, International Organizations (IO), Microsoft Worldwide Public Sector

Persons with disabilities make up 1 billion of the world’s population, yet they face challenges in equal opportunity and access to society in critical areas like education, employment, healthcare, transportation, information communications technology and justice. Every year on Dec. 3, the International Day of Persons with Disabilities, we recognize the importance of providing this underserved community with equal access opportunities and livelihoods. This year’s theme is “removing barriers to create an inclusive and accessible society for all” – an area in which technology plays an important role.

Our company was founded on the belief that putting technology in the hands of individuals could enrich and improve their lives, and, for many years, Microsoft has been dedicated to providing persons with disabilities access to technology they can use.

On this day, Microsoft pays tribute to the contribution our United Nations partners are making toward addressing accessibility issues through innovative technology initiatives.

UN Human Rights

The UN Human Rights Office is committed to leading action to promote accessibility for persons with disabilities in society. The UN Human Rights Office is currently partnering with Microsoft to study the accessibility of the United Nations, in particular the premises, meetings and documentation of the Committee that oversees the implementation of the International Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD).
The study, carried out on a pro bono basis, enlisted the support of Microsoft’s United Kingdom-based partners AbilityNet and Middlesex University, who brought specialized expertise on disability issues and research capability to the project. 

This kind of leadership by the UN Human Rights Office is important because it demonstrates that even a complex, global, multi-lingual and multi-lateral agency can commit to accessibility and take steps to make improvements – setting an example for all governments.

UNESCO

Accessibility in education is a key priority for the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). The organization leads a variety of accessibility-focused programs to ensure teachers are well-equipped in assistive technology and that people with disabilities have the necessary skills and education to have equal access to societal and economic opportunities.

UNESCO has been working with Microsoft on accessibility issues since 2009. Through our public-private partnership, we are working with issue experts to develop guidance on how to create programs and public policy frameworks to support inclusive education for all students, including those with disabilities and impairments.

ITU

The International Telecommunication Union (ITU) leads several policy-related efforts to ensure that accessible ICTs are available and affordable for persons with disabilities. Microsoft has supported these efforts and has been a partner in ensuring that persons with disabilities receive equal access and training with technology.

ITU has partnered with the Global Initiative for Inclusive Information and Communication Technologies (G3ict) to support governments’ implementation of the ICT elements of the CRPD. ITU and G3ict, with the support of Microsoft and other contributors, have developed the e-Accessibility Toolkit for Policy Makers to support ICT regulators and policy makers developing their own e-Accessibility policies.

The ITU-Telecentre.org Women’s Digital Literacy Campaign, which Microsoft also supports, has trained nearly 400,000 women on the use of computers and modern technology to improve their livelihoods. The campaign also focuses on women with disabilities and provides basic ICT literacy, along with materials that can be used to support engagement in a range of economic activities such as handicrafts, agriculture and tourism.

Real Impact for Better Accessibility

Our United Nations partners are well-placed both to raise awareness of the issues faced by people with disabilities and to drive the broad deployment of accessible technology strategies to address those challenges.

These programs are just a few examples of the action being taken by the United Nations. Through sustained commitment and partnerships, we can help people with disabilities overcome the barriers to equal opportunities and make a real impact.

For more information about International Day of Persons with Disabilities, click here.