Accessibility is a human right

Posted: February 18th, 2010 | Filed under: Accessibility, Human Rights, Web Development | Tags: , , , | 2 Comments »

I’d like to add my own thoughts to those expressed by Vlad Alexander’s excellent article Is Web accessibility a human right?.

This is a subject I feel strongly about. A sense of morality is all that I think should be required to find the motivation to make accessible websites, the legal argument means little to me.

I his article Vlad mentions specific parts of the The Universal Declaration of Human Rights which I will expand upon, but let’s start with Articles 1, 2 and 6:

Article 1

All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.

Article 2

Everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration, without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status.

Article 6

Everyone has the right to recognition everywhere as a person before the law.

From this we see that human rights respect the dignity of the individual and have no limits or distinctions, and apply to everyone regardless of their status.

Next, let’s look at the three points mentioned in Vlad’s article, the right to choose where we work, the right to access education, and the right to participate in culture.

Article 23.

  1. Everyone has the right to work, to free choice of employment, to just and favourable conditions of work and to protection against unemployment.

Article 26.

  1. Everyone has the right to education. Education shall be free, at least in the elementary and fundamental stages. Elementary education shall be compulsory. Technical and professional education shall be made generally available and higher education shall be equally accessible to all on the basis of merit.
  2. Education shall be directed to the full development of the human personality and to the strengthening of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms. It shall promote understanding, tolerance and friendship among all nations, racial or religious groups, and shall further the activities of the United Nations for the maintenance of peace.

Article 27.

  1. Everyone has the right freely to participate in the cultural life of the community, to enjoy the arts and to share in scientific advancement and its benefits.

I think that is safe to say that an accessible web is necessary to meet all of these goals in 21st century Britain, and much of the rest of the world. Article 27 elegantly does away with the argument that only commercial sites are required to be accessible.

Now, I suspect I’m starting sound rather militant about web accessibility which may seem at odds with some of the points I made in my post about Web accessibility myths, particularly Content that isn’t 100% accessible shouldn’t be published.I strongly believe that all content on the web should be accessible to all who want to access it, but I’m also a pragmatic sort of person who thinks that one of the strengths of the web, and reasons for its success, is that it is an easy platform to publish to.

I would not want to discourage a single person from publishing online, or requiring extensive knowledge of the arcane discipline of web accessibility before they do, but at the same time it is imperative that those of us who call ourselves web developers or web designers as well as the suppliers of content authoring tools do our utmost to educate others and develop responsibly.

It isn’t just the law, it is far more important than that. It is a moral obligation.


2 Comments on “Accessibility is a human right”

  1. 1 Artur Ortega said at 10:40 am on February 20th, 2010:

    A couple of your thoughts are now part of the
    UN Convention on disability rights.
    Especially article 9 of the convention refers to accessibility as a human right.

    And for building the bridge between morality and the legal argument I quote the Spanish
    philosopher José Ortega Y Gasset: “Law is born from despair of human nature”. ;-)

    I always recommend the speech of Lars Ødegård [PDF] FROM PATHOLOGY TO POLITICS which I attended in Oslo, Norway in 2005 – if someone wants to get a deeper understanding why accessibility is an political issue.

  2. 2 Ian Pouncey said at 12:18 pm on February 21st, 2010:

    Hi Artur, thanks for the comment.

    What the UN Convention on Disability Rights does is explain how the The Universal Declaration of Human Rights applies to people with disabilities, so it is to be expected that these points are covered. After all the point of Universal Human Rights is that they are universal.

    I don’t want to argue that a legal approach can’t be a useful means to an end, but I’d like to think that Ortega y Gasset would agree that changing flawed human nature, while difficult, is much more effective and long lasting.

    In the web development industry it is important that we see building accessible sites and applications as a normal part of doing business, and it is a young enough profession that we have a chance to instill this idea through education and training as much as we do though the use of the law.

    In the end this post is about my motivation, and not that of others. In an ideal world respect for others and their needs (which is what this is really about) would be universal. I think that is an ideal worth working towards, and it will take many small steps to get there – this is one of mine.


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