Lessons from Bogotá: Three keys to ensure access for the disabled

19 June 2013 | James Thurston, Director of International Accessibility Policy, Microsoft Trustworthy Computing Group
I am fortunate to have visited Colombia a couple of times over the last several months. I’m even more fortunate because I was invited by that country’s Ministry of Technology (MINTIC) to participate in an important initiative to enable broader digital inclusion for persons with disabilities.
Colombia has both signed and ratified the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD). The CRPD is an international human rights treaty created “to promote, protect and ensure the full and equal enjoyment of all human rights and fundamental freedoms by all persons with disabilities, and to promote respect for their inherent dignity.” Today around 15% of the global population lives with some form of disability.
As a CRPD signatory, Colombia—like all 130 countries that have ratified CRPD (155 countries have signed it)—is taking real steps to implement the CRPD obligations, including those that deal with the accessibility of Information and Communication Technology (ICT). Colombia’s approach is a good template for other governments around the world when defining accessibility policies for persons with disabilities.
In particular, I think the government of Colombia is using three best practices that will help it succeed:
1.     Promote collaboration.  MINTIC has recognized that in Colombia there is a collective determination across many interested parties to successfully leverage technology for broader digital inclusion, including coverage for persons with disabilities. In their work to implement the CRPD, they have brought together industry, various public sector ministries, and knowledgeable academics. Importantly, they have ensured a role for users and disability advocacy groups, like the Fundacion Saldarriaga Concha, which runs programs to promote social inclusion for people with disabilities in Colombia.
2.     Leverage global best practices. MINTIC is making a real effort to identify and use best practices from around the world to guide their work. They have created a strong partnership with the Global Initiative for Inclusive ICTs (G3ICT), which is an NGO created by the UN specifically to help countries implement the ICT aspects of the CRPD. MINTIC had also included the UN itself in the meetings I attended. The Trust for the Americas, an NGO affiliated with the Organization of American States (OAS), is also a partner of the Colombian government. The Trust runs the successful POETA Centers program, which has trained more than 32,000 people with disabilities in its 139 digital opportunity centers across Latin America.
3.     Focus on high-impact policies. Many of the meetings I attended in Bogotá focused on actual model policies that the G3ICT has developed in collaboration with various UN agencies and experts around the world. MINTIC used these working meetings to discuss draft policies in important areas like web accessibility, accessible education, and the public procurement of accessible technology. 
I’m inspired by what I see in Colombia and look forward to continued collaboration with MINTIC. I expect we’ll see more success there. I’ll continue to share key learnings and best practices as information becomes available, so watch this space and let’s all be inspired together.
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James Thurston
Director of International Accessibility Policy, Microsoft Trustworthy Computing Group

About the Author

James Thurston | Director of International Accessibility Policy, Microsoft Trustworthy Computing Group

As part of Microsoft’s Trustworthy Computing Group, James works with governments and NGOs around the world to promote digital inclusion for people with disabilities. Read more