Implementation of the World Programme of Action
33. In paragraph 9 of its resolution 52/82, the General Assembly requested the Secretary-General to develop a plan to increase the accessibility of the United Nations, its offices and meetings. In cooperation with the Department of Economic and Social Affairs, the Department of Management of the United Nations Secretariat reconvened the Task Force on Accessibility at United Nations Headquarters. Also participating in Task Force meetings were representatives of the Department of General Assembly Affairs and Conference Services, the Department of Public Information, the Office of Human Resources Management and the Office of Central Support Services.
34. A new perspective on accessibility at United Nations Headquarters in New York is provided by the preparation of a long-term capital master plan by the Office of Central Support Services. The intent of the plan is to prepare a coherent programme of physical improvements required over a 25-year period to bring United Nations facilities into conformance with relevant building codes and standards as well as to allow for cost-effective operations and support of the needs of various building users. The plan focuses on the immediate United Nations Headquarters complex and the United Nations Institute for Training and Research (UNITAR) building in New York. Findings from the initial phase of the plan (overview report and conditions assessment) indicate that the United Nations Secretariat has achieved a modest level of physical accessibility either through service policy or through physical changes, partly because of the generous spaces of the original buildings. Work remaining to be done to achieve more accessible facility falls in several categories. For instance, many remaining items are essentially maintenance work, which is being accomplished through regular maintenance staff. Certain items are to be corrected as renovations occur. One example is door hardware: conventional door knobs are replaced with lever hardware when office renovations are scheduled. Should the long-term capital master plan proceed or in the course of future large-scale renovations in general, entire areas will be taken out of service for improvements to all services, including sprinklers, fire alarms, heating, ventilating and air-conditioning, lighting replacements, information cabling and any safety corrections. During the course of the renovation work, remaining accessibility deficiencies will also be corrected in each area. Accessibility requirements also form a constituent standard in the design of building infrastructure replacements. Work expected to be performed under the plan includes an accessible entry to the Dag Hammarskjöld Library at 42nd Street, improved accessibility to the conference rooms, and the addition of accessible toilet facilities in areas where this requires significant construction. As a result of discussions of the Task Force, the issue of improving accessibility within the Dag Hammarskjöld Library and between the Library and the remainder of the United Nations Secretariat complex may be prioritized in advance of implementation of the plan.
35. As in many existing buildings, at United Nations Headquarters there are several accessibility conditions that cannot be ameliorated through physical alterations but which must be addressed by the use of technology. The most direct example is the interpreter booths, which by their very purpose overlook conference rooms. The booths are small and are generally reached through stairways and comparatively narrow corridors. Should a wheelchair user be employed as an interpreter or should a current interpreter become wheelchair-bound, the physical setting of interpreter booths poses a significant barrier to employment. In the present configuration of the conference rooms, rebuilding to alleviate this condition would require a complete rebuilding of the entire conferencing facilities. However, technological advances in interpretation equipment mean that new interpretation areas, constructed as part of the implementation of the long-term capital master plan, could be made accessible and thus would permit barrier-free interpretation in any conference room at United Nations Headquarters or elsewhere. Although existing buildings may present apparently unsolvable physical accessibility problems, technology rather than major reconstruction may present the best total solution to improved accessibility.
36. Task Force meetings also discussed issues related to information technologies to promote accessibility for persons with disabilities within and outside the United Nations system.
37. The meetings noted that accessibility is a means and an end of the goals of full participation of persons with disabilities and equality. Accessible information and physical environments reflect as well the fundamental concern of the Organization with equality and the entitlement to human rights for all.