Human Rights and Accessible Information

Julie Helen writes about the UN Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities

  • Ireland signed the UN Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities into law in March 2018
  • The Convention will help people with disabilities have the same rights as everyone else
  • Article 9 in the Convention is about Accessibility
  • Accessibility includes access to buildings and transport
  • It also includes access to information in a way everyone can understand it
  • Information helps us to understand our rights and put our rights into action and make them real
  • Accessible information can include Plain English, Easy to Read Information, Sign Language, Braille, video and using technology or any other way of presenting information that will help someone to understand it
  • In Ireland, Public Sector Duty tells all public services that they should make their information accessible to everyone
  • We need more services to make accessible information so that people with disabilities can take part fully in society

Ireland ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities in March 2018. It was a victory for human rights in Ireland. Now it is time to make the rights and articles in the Convention real for all people with disabilities.

Article 9 of the Convention deals with accessibility. The article has two key aspects and eight appropriate measures that State Parties to the Convention should take into account in order to make sure that people with disabilities have access on an equal basis to other people.

The key aspects of this access are about

  • Buildings, roads, transportation and other indoor and outdoor facilities, including schools, housing, medical facilities and workplaces;
  • Information, communications and other services, including electronic services and emergency services.

Part (a) above is generally understood with building regulations and the necessity of all public buildings to have a minimum level of physical accessibility. I am a wheelchair user, a person with a physical disability so have experienced the difficulties of negotiating the built environment all my life. When physical access falls short, it feels horrible. When physical access is appropriate for my needs however, I feel valued and capable.

In relation to part (b) above, pertaining to information and communications, it stands to reason that access to information has a similar impact to physical access. My brother has an intellectual disability and I have seen how lack of accessible information in many different settings has blocked him from understanding his rights fully and how access to information he can understand empowers him.

Having accessible information about rights, in fact enables us all to exercise our rights; if we do not have information in a way we can understand it, we cannot exercise any of our rights effectively. In this way accessible information is the vehicle by which people with intellectual disabilities in particular can understand and exercise all of their rights in a way they were not able to before.

Specifically referring to information, Article 9 of the Convention states that State Parties should take appropriate measures:

  • To promote other appropriate forms of assistance and support to persons with disabilities to ensure their access to information;
  • To promote access for persons with disabilities to new information and communications technologies and systems, including the Internet;
  • To promote the design, development, production and distribution of accessible information and communications technologies and systems at an early stage, so that these technologies and systems become accessible at minimum cost.

The three measures above are strong endorsements of the importance of accessible information. Implementing these aspects of the Convention will require significant commitment and investment from many stakeholders, especially government and public bodies. We already see some pockets of accessible information being produced and disseminated. However, it needs to become widespread and consistent to ensure equity of access for everyone. At the moment we most often see plain English, which is promoted by the National Adult Literacy Agency (NALA). We need to see more Easy to Read information which includes symbols and images with simple text to aid understanding specifically made with and for people with intellectual disabilities. People with intellectual disabilities need to be involved in the creation, development and testing of all accessible information so it is of the highest quality. We must also employ video and technology so that information in general in accessible to as wide an audience as possible.

Public Sector Duty as set out by Section 42 of the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission Act 2014 places a positive duty on public sector bodies to have regard to the need to eliminate discrimination, promote equality, and protect human rights in their daily work. This is a vehicle we can use to encourage public bodies to produce information in accessible formats. Public Sector Duty is not as widely known and understood as it could be. With the UNCRPD and Public Sector Duty we have an opportunity to change how we all access and understand information, and it can only be of benefit into the future.

Julie Helen is an Advocacy Project Worker with Inclusion Ireland since 2016. Julie worked in disability services before and has a passion for accessible information. Julie has a degree in psychology and a masters in journalism. Julie also has a physical disability and her brother has an intellectual disability. Together with her family, Julie has been involved in disability activism for many years.