Bridging the disability divide

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Many ISO standards support the objectives of the International Day of Persons with Disabilities, held every year on 3 December by the United Nations. The day aims to increase awareness and understanding of disability issues and trends, and to mobilize support for practical action at all levels by, with and for persons with disabilities.

Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities

This year marks the fifth anniversary of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD).

The CRPD recognizes that the existence of barriers constitutes a central component of disability. Under the Convention, disability is an evolving concept that “results from the interaction between persons with impairments and attitudinal and environmental barriers that hinder their full and effective participation in society on an equal basis with others”.

ISO standards can help us break down those barriers by giving manufacturers and service providers the guidelines on how to design products accessible for all.

Why ISO standards matter

The wide-ranging portfolio of ISO standards on accessibility, including those relating to the physical environment or information and communication technology, to specific product standards related to wheelchairs or other devices to improve mobility, aims to improve safety and quality of life for all.

ISO/IEC Guide 71:2001, Guidelines for standards developers to address the needs of older persons and persons with disabilities, provides assistance to standards developers with the objective of ensuring standards take into account the various needs of persons with disabilities. A new edition of the Guide will be available by the end of 2014.

Why standards need to address accessibility

Global developments in demographics: The number and percentage of persons worldwide in higher age groups are increasing and will do so over the coming decades.

Disability is dynamic: Disability applies to ever wider segments of the population in the course or during periods of their lives, including to persons who did not have a disability at earlier stages.

Improvements in product design: Demands towards the usability of products have increased, resulting in improvements in the ease of interaction between a user and a product, system or environment.

Public policies and regulations: Procurement policies of public agencies emphasize more and more the accessibility of products and services and stipulate accessibility requirements as a condition for success in public bids.

Cost considerations: Costs for the inclusion of accessibility aspects in the design of products, systems and environments from the outset are significantly lower than retrofitting them later to meet such requirements. For example, it is estimated that ensuring full compliance with accessibility standards in new public buildings adds generally only 1 % to the cost, which is significantly cheaper than adapting existing buildings later on.

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Elizabeth Gasiorowski-Denis

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