A view of participants in the course of the session during the three-day sixth session of the Conference of States Parties to the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities opened at UN headquarters.


A General Assembly Mandate

In order to make information on the United Nations and its activities available to the widest range of audiences, and in keeping with resolutions of the General Assembly, the Department of Public Information (DPI) is actively pursuing accessibility of the United Nations website by persons with disabilities. The objective of DPI is to comply with the Web Content Accessibility guidelines1 of the World Wide Web Consortium standards, which at the present time are the only standards with worldwide recognition.

Following the adoption of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities on 13 December 2006 (resolution 61/106), the General Assembly requested the Secretary-General to progressively implement standards and guidelines for the accessibility of facilities and services of the United Nations System. To assist other departments and offices in producing accessible web content, those guidelines were prepared by a task force composed of members of the Web Services Section of DPI.

What is Web Accessibility?

"Web accessibility means that people with disabilities can use the Web. Web accessibility encompasses all disabilities that affect access to the Web, including visual, auditory, physical, speech, cognitive, and neurological disabilities." (Source: W3C).

Persons with disabilities are faced with many challenges when using the Internet and some use assistive technologies to help them access information. For instance, persons with visual impairments may use screen magnifiers or screen readers that read out loud the content of a page or translate it on a Braille display. Persons with mobility impairment may be unable to use a mouse and resort to using the keyboard or another assistive device to surf the web.

Special attention needs to be dedicated to web accessibility in the web design process to ensure a site is usable by persons with different types of disabilities, using a wide range of assistive technologies.

Costs and Benefits

Making a website accessible to disabled persons requires technical expertise in web design and accessibility issues.

Creating accessible pages takes more time. However, it is much more productive to consider this aspect at the start of a project than to modify an existing, inaccessible site.

It should also be noted that accessible websites carry other benefits. They are:

  • More user-friendly because they strive to give users the greatest level of control on how they wish to access content;
  • Optimized for display on any type of device, such as mobile phones or PDAs;
  • Easier to access with low-bandwidth connection;
  • Optimized for search engine indexation which contributes to an increased visibility in search results;
  • Easier to maintain -- redesigns and language versions can be implemented quicker.

Audio and Audiovisual Content

In order to ensure full access, audio and audiovisual content should be closed-captioned. However, due to increased resource requirements for this aspect, DPI has not yet been able to tackle the issue of audio and audiovisual content accessibility. Therefore, the present guidelines will not address the issues related to audio and video content.

Accessibility Validation

There are a number of automatic validation tools that can provide partial accessibility validation. They can be used for preliminary validation purposes. A list of such tools is referenced on the W3C website.

Once the issues identified with an automated tool are solved, it is imperative to complete the evaluation manually. See the Validation Procedures.

The present guidelines are based on the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 1.0 of the W3C.