The fifth Zero Project Conference on “Inclusive Education and ICT” has proven to be a huge success. More than 500 participants from 70 countries attended the official opening ceremony on Thursday, 11th February, in the United Nations Office in Vienna in person, many more via the accessible online livestream. In her keynote, Judy Heumann, Special Advisor for International Disability Rights to the US State Department under President Barack Obama, highlighted the importance of offering inclusive education for children and adults with disabilities – especially in poor and middle income countries, where a very large percentages of children with disabilities are not even in school.
Judy Heumann: “Our stories are powerful. Our fight for equality is just and it is our responsibility to make it happen.”
Zero Project Award: 98 Innovative Practices and Policies in 2016
During the traditional Zero Project Award ceremony on Wednesday, 10th February, 86 innovative practices and 12 innovative policies from more than 40 countries were distinguished for their positive impact on the lives of persons with disabilities.
German actor Samuel Koch, who was paralyzed from the neck down after a live-broadcast accident on a popular German TV show, shared some of his experiences in a very personal address to the participants. Even though equal rights are an important issue, he concluded “nobody has an advantage if we just demand and enforce the law without changing the hearts of people.”
Being held for the first time at the Zero Project Conference, the Technology Show was a much anticipated highlight closing the first day. Exemplary projects like a mouth controlled 4D-Joystick, a speech visualizer, a system to control computers with the eyes only, hearing implants and a mouth controlled computer mouse let alone a computer animated avatar that translates videos to sign language were presented in an entertaining live show.
The 12 Innovative Policies 2016 are about laws and regulations that have substantially improved inclusive education models, or accessible Information and Communication Technologies. The 12 Innovative Policies in pictures.
The Zero Project doesn’t want to reinvent the wheel, instead what it does is find solutions that have been proven to work, all over the world and adapt them to the specific situations of people with disabilities. To provide the necessary data, a four-year research cycle was established to measure the implementation of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD) coupled with an annually changing theme: Employment, Accessibility, Independent Living and Education. In 2016 the focus was on inclusive education and information and communication technology (ICT).
Harnessing its unique network, the Zero Project Report looks at three fields: 1) Social Indicators, 2) Innovative Practices and 3) Innovative Policies. What is more, the 2016 report features life stories of people with disabilities who directly benefitted from Innovative Practices or who worked closely with them.
The Zero Project Report 2016 on “Inclusive Education and ICT” is available at:
Social Indicators: Data on Accessibility and Students with Disabilities is Missing Most
For its annual report 2016, the Zero Project team used a questionnaire to research a total of 30 social indicators, covering both the UNCRPD in general and the particular focus topic education. 275 experts from 129 countries rated each indicator according to a traffic light system and commented on specific aspects where necessary.
78 percent reported that there is no data available on the accessibility of public buildings (including school buildings) despite the international standard ISO 21542-2011, while 45 percent say that there is a timeframe for newly constructed public buildings to become accessible.
74 percent of respondents say that in their country there is no data on students with disabilities in vocational and educational training. 52 percent report that there is a responsible government agency, the Ministry of Education, for Inclusive Education.
Innovative Practices: Lessons for Education and ICT
In June and July 2015 the research team reached out to its network of more than 3,000 people from nearly every country of the world to nominate innovative solutions for persons with disabilities. Together with its approximately 150 partners, the Zero Project team nominated 86 Innovative Practices from 43 countries that positively impact the rights of persons with disabilities for Inclusive Education.
These practices cover inclusive primary and secondary schools, vocational and educational training and universities as well as early childhood interventions and emergency and disaster situations. On the technological side, the focus is on accessible web solutions, hardware devices and software.
Find all 86 Innovative Practices 2016 at:
Innovative Policies: Tools for Social Change
Like practical solutions that can be adapted and used in different contexts, policies are a key field for innovation transfer. This year the Zero Project received numerous policy nominations from around the world. 22 were researched in depth by the World Future Council with its Future Just Lawmaking Methodology. After having verified the nominations and clarified open questions with the help of experts from government, academia, and/or disabled persons organizations, the Zero Project expert network selected 12 policies that measurably advance the right of persons with disabilities to be included in education and/or to access ICT.
Innovative Policies 2016 are implemented at all levels of government, from the regional/provincial to the national up to the international level and cover all levels of education.
The project seeks to develop a simple and effective method for children with diverse disabilities to express or communicate their life priorities and human rights issues through the use of ICT and other resources. . The project also aims to achieve the transferability and scalability of this method, utilizing accessible ICT, by designing education activities and resources for governments, services providers, and community members both in the target country and globally.
The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, the SDGs, is an encouraging milestone for disability. Contrary to the MDGs, the Millenium Development Goals, this new Agenda highlights the importance of leaving no one behind and includes seven targets explicitly referring to persons with disabilities. These targets focus on education, employment, empowerment and participation. They also focus on capacity-building and availability of data disaggregated by disability.
Disaggregated data is very important. As statisticians are fond of saying, in order to count, you must first be counted. Even though data on disability has been increasingly available in recent years, the quality and quantity is still insufficient. The good news is that methodologies and relevant UN principles and guidance for collecting disaggregated data have already been developed. Much more progress can be achieved by building on those methodologies and principles and applying them at the national level.
For example many countries still do not even know how many of their citizens are persons with disabilities. Or how many of their children with disabilities do not attend school. Or how many of their citizens with disabilities lack access to Information and Communications Technologies (ICTs).
These statistics are critical for empowerment and accessibility; and for monitoring implementation of the SDGs. Member States should work with organisations representing persons with disabilities to develop appropriate national monitoring frameworks and national development plans. Capacity building at the country level will be needed to produce the necessary data and to train policy makers on how to use data in policy making.
Another critical factor for implementation is strong political will at the national level, backed by evidence-based policy making. It is important for Governments to translate the strong commitments made at the international level, into concrete policies at the national level. Adopting and enforcing robust policies that are disability sensitive and responsive; improving accessibility and ensuring equal opportunities; and raising public awareness on persons with disabilities as actors and contributors to development, not passive recipients of charity, are all critical.
One of the most comprehensive SDG targets, as far as disability is concerned, is target 10.2 which calls for social, economic and political empowerment and inclusion of persons with disabilities. Both education and access to ICT for persons with disabilities will be essential to achieve inclusion and empowerment.
The SDG education targets focus on ensuring equal access to education for persons with disabilities as well as education facilities which are sensitive for students with disabilities.
In addition, the SDG target on accessible transport is also relevant for students with disabilities. It is known that many children and youth with disabilities cannot attend school due to lack of accessible transport.
The SDG target 9.c also calling for significantly increase access to ICT also applies to persons with disabilities.
Communication is key to raising public awareness, of the SDGs in general and of disability specific SDGs. In this regard, organisations such as The Zero Project are essential. Your mission statement of working for a world with zero barriers is shared by us at the United Nations. Many other civil society organisations and national governments also share this vision. It is important for all of us to work in partnership to build a global coalition with strong messages that can engage people the world over in implementing a truly inclusive global agenda.
Daniela Bas is Director of the Division for Social Policy and Development (DSPD) of the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UNDESA).
Human Rights are one of the most remarkable achievements of civilization.
Held today in the highest regard by billions of people worldwide, and enshrined in global documents and conventions as well as in national and local laws and policies, nonetheless we are far from a point where we can take such rights for granted or expect that they will be universally observed. Further, we know from the past that Human Rights can take not only decades but centuries from the time that activists first put them forward to the time when they are ultimately accepted and begin to thrive.
One obvious example is slavery, where abolitionism was a key element of the eighteenth-century Enlightenment. Yet it took another hundred years and an American Civil War for the right of every person to be free – at least in the industrialized nations of that time. And yet the struggle is still not entirely over, considering reports about human trafficking, forced prostitution, and child labour.
Another example is gender equality, where Suffragettes first appeared in early nineteen century, but did not win the right to vote until a century later – in Australia in 1902,in Finland (the first in Europe) in 1906.
A visionary thought: Arguably, the nineteenth century was the age of freedom, and the twentieth century the age of gender equality. Might, then, the twenty-first century be the age of persons with disabilities?
There are numerous historic parallels among these three great rights movement that support such a vision.
In the early nineteenth century the world witnessed landmark achievements towards the right for freedom for all. Whereas slavery was not addressed by the Declaration of Independence of the United States of America in 1776, and perhaps even more astonishing not in the Declaration of the Rights of Man of the French Revolution of 1789, in the Vienna Congress of 1815 slave trade was condemned for the first time in a major and binding international treaty. In 1833, England was the first of the superpowers of the age to abolished slavery, with the French colonies following in 1848.
Similarly, the twentieth century began with a ground-breaking paradigm shift in the rights of women. After the First World War I, during which the women in all countries involved in the war worked at the jobs and machines that their men had left behind, it was unthinkable to return to the former social order. Consequently, full and equal voting rights were granted to women in Germany and Austria in 1919.
And, yes, the twenty-first century began with a breakthrough in the rights of persons with disabilities – the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities – adopted in December 2006. Almost 10 years later, the UN CRPD has not only been ratified by 160 countries, it has proven to be a major catalyst to the global disabilities movement, providing a unified set of goals and a monitoring mechanism that has already had a clear impact on policy-making.
Or course, as with all great progressive movements, the Human Rights campaigners are always fighting uphill, and the path is riddled with such difficult roadblocks as ignorance, vested interests, harmful traditions, and hidden political and business agendas.
Major victories can be won when discriminating legislation is replaced by a just one. Or when the numbers of children in inclusive schools and employees with disabilities in the open labour market increase. But Human Rights are not set goals. They are moving targets, and so the quest to achieve equality for persons with disabilities will continue to be an uphill struggle for many decades to come.
That may sound uncomfortable, but it is true for every civil right. Civilizations are evolving, and so are the concepts of justice and equality – of Human Rights. The rights of persons with disabilities are gaining ground worldwide. They have started to enter mainstream decision and policy-making in many countries, and are increasingly discussed in popular media. Great concepts such as accessibility, inclusion, and Universal Design have been created and are increasingly used outside the closed circles of disability activists as well.