Hailing a new facility that enables greater participation of persons with disabilities in intergovernmental processes at Headquarters as “a model of the digital United Nations we are are trying to create,” Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said today the initiative showed the Organization is making strides towards creating a disability-inclusive world.
“Yesterday was the International Day of Persons with Disabilities. Today we prove that we care about this issue all year ‘round,” Mr. Ban told a special event launching the Accessibility Centre, which will provide cutting edge tools for persons with visual, mobility and hearing impairments, enabling them to access documents and fully participate in meetings.
“We are moving forward with 21st century solutions that make the most of technological innovation,” he said, explaining that people can stop by, borrow state-of-the-art equipment, and then leave to join their colleagues at different UN meetings.
Developed by the UN Department for General Assembly and Conference Management, the Centre was made possible by the generous support of the Republic of Korea, which the UN chief thanked for “its generous contribution that turned our vision for the Centre into a reality.”
Also at the event was John Ashe, President of the UN General Assembly, Jenny Nilsson, President of the Youth Section of the World Federation of the Deaf, and Kang Seong Ju, Director-General of the Convergence Policy Bureau of the Ministry of Science, ICT and Future Planning of Korea. Peter Launsky-Tieffenthal, Under-Secretary-General for Communications and Public Information moderated the proceedings.
Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and other participants at the opening of the Accessibility Centre. UN Photo/Mark Garten
Highlighting some of the features of the Centre, the Secretary-General said the overall approach is not centralized. Some may wish to recharge their wheelchairs at the Centre, “or type with a Palm On Keyboard, or take advantage of different services. But the result for all users is to integrate with the whole UN community,” said Mr. Ban.
In fact, equipment from the Centre is not all located at the Centre. Palm On keyboards can be found at other IT kiosks around the building. There will also be a Satellite Accessibility Centre in the North Lawn Building. Other available services include: braille and other assistive keyboards, hearing aids, bone conduction headsets and screen readers.
“We are privileged to share this equipment to all who need it free of charge. All we ask in return is your involvement, your ideas and your initiative,” the UN chief said, adding that persons with disabilities make enormous contributions to the Organization’s global work – on human rights and much more, including peacefully settling disputes, advancing sustainable development and establishing the rule of law.
“You can count on us to do everything possible to support your valuable work. And we count on you to keep pressing for progress on issues across the international agenda,” he said, expressing hope that the human rights of all will be brought front and centre as the Organization sees increased engagement and participation of persons with disabilities at UN meetings.
In his remarks to the event, UN General Assembly President Ashe said global efforts to make the world more accessible to persons with disabilities must begin – and, as the Accessibility Centre demonstrates, are beginning – “right here in our own hallways.”
Both the General Assembly and the UN Human Rights Council have asked the Secretary-General to implement standards and guidelines for the accessibility of facilities and services throughout the UN system, Mr. Ashe said. “For if we are to build a more inclusive world, it is essential that persons with disabilities are able to fully participate in and contribute to our deliberations,” he stressed.
To do so, they not only need to be able to access our meeting rooms, they also need to access information through documents and websites that are designed to be accessible to all, Mr. Ashe continued. Furthermore, they need assistive technologies such as screen readers, pointing devices or hearing aids. “By providing these tools and services, the Accessibility Centre will be instrumental in building an inclusive United Nations,” he declared.
“As President of the General Assembly, I am committed to supporting the full participation of persons with disabilities in our intergovernmental processes,” he said, explaining in that regard that he has begun to explore with the Department of General Assembly and Conference Management (DGACM) the possibility of producing the body’s verbatim records in a digital format accessible to the visually impaired.
“This will allow us to share the fruits of our deliberations with all, including those who cannot attend meetings,” pledging his commitment to ensuring that, as the international community begins the task of crafting the post-2015 development agenda, the voices of people with disabilities will be heard everywhere, in countries as well as within the UN conference rooms.