Newswise — Persons with disabilities still lack access to many United Nations and affiliated forums and programs, despite the organization’s mandate of inclusiveness and support for human rights causes, according to a new study conducted by American University’s Institute on Disability and Public Policy (IDPP) and supported by a grant from The Nippon Foundation. Entitled Accessibility in Global Governance: The (In)visibility of Persons with Disabilities, the study is the first systematic attempt to examine accessibility barriers in international policymaking. It recommends immediate actions that can empower more than one billion people around the world to effectively participate in U.N. and other decision-making forums and programs.

“While the United Nations is home to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, tremendous barriers continue to exist that prevent persons with disabilities from active and effective participation in UN policymaking,” said Derrick L. Cogburn, lead study investigator, professor at American University’s School of International Service and Kogod School of Business, and Executive Director at AU’s Institute on Disability and Public Policy.

The study is the result of interviews with experts from fifteen international organizations including G3ICT, UNISDR, UNDESA, UNESCAP, the World Bank, and the International Telecommunication Union, and with major global disability networks including Disabled Peoples’ International, International Disability Alliance, and Rehabilitation International. It also included a multinational survey of staff and members of 123 disability organizations from 51 countries.

Cogburn and co-author Filippo Trevisan, IDPP Deputy Director and assistant professor at AU’s School of Communication, highlightthe social, political, economic, and technological factors that inhibit the participation of persons with disabilities. They point out that, while there are notable exceptions, many under-resourced transnational advocacy networks for persons with disabilities feel increasingly limited in their ability to influence complex international policy. Researchers found that the biggest obstacles to accessibility include: a lack of accessible information before(conference websites and registration), during(daily schedules, agendas, and conference documents), and afterUN conferences; a lack of accessible physical infrastructure in conference cities and at conference venues (public transport, taxis, hotels, and conference rooms); and an overall lack of funding for persons with disabilities to participate in these events. 

“These obstacles are substantial, and their combined effect makes it very difficult for persons with disabilities to participate effectively in UN conferences,” said Filippo Trevisan.

The study also emphasizes the progress that has been made in building disability networks to increase participation in key UN policy processes and features the work of several international networks that coordinate input from the global disability community into the Sustainable Development Goals, the Sendai Framework on Disaster Risk Reduction, and UN Habitat’s New Urban Agenda.

The authors also make a number of important recommendations to enhance the accessibility of its meetings both at UN facilities in New York, Geneva, and around the world, and at host country venues. These recommendations include ensuring that conference websites and registration materials meet the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0 standards or exceed them; surveying event participants about their accessibility and accommodations needs and allocating resources to ensure that these needs are met; and offering training to its staff. The study also encourages the UN to take a more robust approach in providing remote participation through accessible web-conferencing and other technological tools, such as mobile remote presence device, also known as telepresence robots.

About American University (
In its 125-year history, American University has established a reputation for producing change makers focused on the challenges of a changing world. AU has garnered recognition for global education, public service, experiential learning and politically active and diverse students, as well as academic and research expertise in a wide range of areas including the arts, sciences, humanities, business and communication, political science and policy, governance, law and diplomacy.

About the Institute on Disability and Public Policy (
The Institute on Disability and Public Policy at American University is a multidisciplinary, cross-campus research center that creates and disseminates knowledge that enables all persons to participate effectively in local, national, and global governance through the use of accessible information and communication technologies. IDPP leads the AU 2030 Strategic Initiative on Global Disability and Development, and helps to facilitate collaborative research, teaching and outreach programs through its partnerships. Since 2009, IDPP has been creating groundbreaking, innovative pathways to accessible learning. It built the world's first virtual graduate institute on disability and public policy through the vision and support of The Nippon Foundation.

About The Nippon Foundation (
The Nippon Foundation was established in 1962 as a non-profit philanthropic organization, active in Japan and around the world. Initially, the Foundation’s efforts focused on the maritime and shipping fields, but since then the range of activities has expanded to education, social welfare, public health, and other fields—carried out in more than 100 countries to date. Together with more than 20 partner organizations in Japan and worldwide, The Nippon Foundation is funding and assisting community-led efforts aimed at realizing a more peaceful and prosperous global society.