Accessibility is a right that enables independence and participation of persons with disabilities on an equal basis with others and often refers to products, systems, services, environments, and facilities that are used by people with diverse requirements[i]. Without access to the physical environment, transportation, information and communication, and other facilities and services provided to the public, persons with disabilities would not have equal opportunities[ii].
Because persons with deafblindness experience barriers to communication and information, accessibility considerations for them are often limited in these areas. However, persons with deafblindness also experience many barriers to orientation and mobility in public spaces[iii]. Some of the accessibility measures for persons who are blind, such as providing information in Braille or large print, or for persons who are deaf, such as providing captioning, may help some persons with deafblindness. However, as a group, the accessibility measures for the deaf and/or the blind do not sufficiently meet the requirements of persons with deafblindness.
When accessibility measures are not considered or in place for persons with deafblindness, they are less likely to participate or engage in society. Accessibility applies to groups, whereas reasonable accommodation applies to individuals. There is a duty to provide accessibility for all groups of persons with disabilities, including persons with deafblindness, and to set accessibility standards, which must be adopted in consultation with OPDs. These accessibility standards need to be specified for and communicated to service providers and other relevant stakeholders[iv]. Because deafblindness is a low-incidence disability, the accessibility requirements of persons with deafblindness are often not considered and may only be acknowledged as a reasonable accommodation request of individuals. This approach undermines the right to accessibility and the recognition of persons with deafblindness as a distinct group, as accessibility is unconditional[v].
[i] Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, A/RES/61/106, 13 December 2006, Article 9; UNPRPD, The preconditions necessary to ensure disability inclusion across policies, services, and other interventions, https://unprpd.org/sites/default/files/library/2020-08/Annex%202%20UNPRPD%204th%20Funding%20Call%20Preconditions%20to%20disability%20inclusion%20ACC.pdf, accessed May 2022, p. 4-5.
[ii] Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, General Comment No. 2 Article 9: Accessibility, CRPD/C/GC/2, 22 May 2014, para. 1.
[iii] World Federation of the Deafblind, At risk of exclusion from CRPD and SDG implementation: Inequality and Persons with Deafblindness, https://wfdb.eu/wfdb-report-2018/, September 2018, p. 7.
[iv] Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, General Comment No. 2 Article 9: Accessibility, CRPD/C/GC/2, 22 May 2014, para. 25.
It is crucial that minimum standards for the accessibility of goods and services provided by public and private entities for persons with disabilities must consider persons with deafblindness as a group and consult with their representative organisations. Stakeholders, such as builders, planners, and service providers, may require training to sensitise them and to develop their technical knowledge[i]. Accessibility standards for persons with deafblindness should be considered and applied to the following areas:
Accessibility standards for person with deafblindness should consider information and communication as well as orientation and mobility. Wherever possible, universal design principles should be applied. Some key elements for the built environment include:
Having a barrier-free environment in cities and towns can help, such as not blocking the pathways, and providing accessibility features, such as spinning tactile devices installed into the control box at a pedestrian crossing and tactile paving to mark the edges of the pathway near roads or on train platforms. Accessibility tips should be provided to persons with deafblindness and their families to facilitate the adjustment of the home and financial supports should be provided if adaptations are too costly for individuals.
Information and communication should be available in a variety of formats, as the needs of persons with deafblindness vary from person to person. Many of these formats are relevant to other groups of persons with disabilities.
Some examples include:
For virtual and live events accessibility considerations include:
In addition to these accessibility standards, persons with deafblindness may also require reasonable accommodations, such as access to interpreter-guide/Deafblind interpreting services. However, adopting them will reduce the need for reasonable accommodation requests.
[i] Ibid., para. 19.
[ii] Deafblind Ontario Services, Accessibility Guidelines for Sensory Loss, 3rd Edition, 2020, 13-97.
[iii] Deaf Scotland, Making Zoom Accessible for People Who Are Deafblind, deafscotland.org, accessed May 2022.
OPDs and NGOs