Article 21 – Freedom of expression and access to information

Convention Text

 1.1 States Parties shall take all appropriate measures to ensure that persons with disabilities can exercise the right to freedom of expression and opinion, including the freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas on an equal basis with others and through all forms of communication of their choice, as defined in article 2 of the present Convention, including by: R1

(a) Providing information intended for the general public to persons with disabilities in accessible formats and technologies appropriate to different kinds of disabilities in a timely manner and without additional cost; R1

(b) Accepting and facilitating the use of sign languages, Braille, augmentative and alternative communication, and all other accessible means, modes and formats of communication of their choice by persons with disabilities in official interactions; R1

(c) Urging private entities that provide services to the general public, including through the Internet, to provide information and services in accessible and usable formats for persons with disabilities; R1

(d) Encouraging the mass media, including providers of information through the Internet, to make their services accessible to persons with disabilities; R3

(e) Recognising and promoting the use of sign languages.

Declaration of Needs and Characteristics

2.1 Two of the principal disabilities arising from visual loss are the abilities to communicate with organisations and individuals via normal print and to access information in normal print, whether it is in written or electronic form.

2.2 A minority of partially-sighted people can read normal print. The majority however, need to use low vision aids to read print. This is only practical for many people if the print is large, in excess of 14 point, is in a plain font and contrasts well with the material on which it is printed.

2.3 Most blind people cannot read print under any circumstances. They rely on the presentation of written information in formats such as Braille or via speech.

2.4 Many blind and partially-sighted people can produce printed material, for example, by the use of typewriters or personal computers. Their ability to do this relies on the possession of, or access to such equipment.

2.5 Personal computers, adapted with access technology, can enable partially-sighted people to enlarge print displayed on the screen, adjust the contrast with the background and change the font. Through the use of screen reading software, blind people can also access computer based digital textual information via the use of synthetic speech or refreshable braille displays. Personal computers with appropriate adaptations also enable blind and partially-sighted people to write to individuals and organisations and to access information via the internet. However, such equipment is expensive to purchase and to adapt. Specialist training is also needed to learn to use it.

2.6 Many people who are unable to read print have learned to read and write Braille. This has a notation for almost every language in the world and for many mathematical, technical and scientific applications. A limited range of magazines and books are produced in Braille. Many blind people have been educated and trained using Braille. It enables blind people to collect, collate, store and retrieve information as effectively as a normally sighted person. It can be used without recourse to expensive high technology equipment. It is the format of choice for many thousands of blind people.

2.7 The facility to communicate and to access information in the public domain is crucial to enable any European citizen to function effectively and to lead an inclusive life in the community. Many blind and partially-sighted people use a wide range of formats and equipment to communicate in writing and to access information in the public domain and to collect, collate and store it.

2.8 The facility to utilise one or more of a range of formats viable for blind and partially-sighted people depends on several key factors –

 Skills acquired during education, habilitation or rehabilitation and subsequently applied at a practical level;
 the provision of equipment, training on its use, its maintenance and repair;
 the willingness and ability of individuals and organisations to communicate interactively in a format that can be read or manipulated into a readable form;
 the availability of information, e.g. via the Internet, in a form that can be accessed by blind and partially-sighted people using available access technology (use of graphics, screen layouts designed without appreciation of access restrictions and blocks on downloading can render information inaccessible).

2.9 It is especially important that the transmission and exchange of information and correspondence of a confidential or personal nature with blind and partially-sighted people is carried out in the formats chosen by individual blind and partially-sighted people. This includes financial, health and legal information and communications. The administration of formatting or transcription services or facilities must guarantee the total confidentiality of such information or communications; blind and partially-sighted people have the same rights to confidentiality as everyone else.

Important Aspects of Convention Text

3.1 Convention text - R1 States Parties shall take all appropriate measures to ensure that persons with disabilities can exercise the right to freedom of expression and opinion, including the freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas on an equal basis with others and through all forms of communication of their choice, as defined in article 2 of the present Convention, including by:

(a) Providing information intended for the general public to persons with disabilities in accessible formats and technologies appropriate to different kinds of disabilities in a timely manner and without additional cost;

(b) Accepting and facilitating the use of sign languages, Braille, augmentative and alternative communication, and all other accessible means, modes and formats of communication of their choice by persons with disabilities in official interactions;

3.2 Requirement - Blind and partially-sighted people must be enabled to correspond with public entities in Braille or other communication modes of their choice.

3.3 Requirement - Public entities must be required to correspond with blind and partially-sighted people in formats of their choice.

3.4 Requirement - Blind and partially-sighted people must have the equipment they require to communicate in formats of their choice.

3.5 Requirement - Public entities that produce information for public use must produce and disseminate this in appropriate formats and in timely manner for blind and partially-sighted people.

3.6 Requirement - Public entities' staff responsible for producing and disseminating public information must receive awareness training to understand the information and communication needs of blind and partially-sighted people and to develop and maintain the skills necessary to provide information in preferred formats.

3.7 Requirement - Confidential personal correspondence, for example relating to health, personal or legal matters, must be transmitted in formats requested by blind and partially-sighted people and confidentiality of this information effectively protected.

3.8 Convention text - R2 (c) Urging private entities that provide services to the general public, including through the Internet, to provide information and services in accessible and usable formats for persons with disabilities.

3.9 Requirement - Information on goods, facilities and services provided for their customers and service users by private entities should be available in a range of formats that are accessible to blind and partially-sighted people.

3.10 Convention text - R3 (d) Encouraging the mass media, including providers of information through the Internet, to make their services accessible to persons with disabilities.

3.11 Requirement - Web based and on line and other information services must be designed and presented to enable blind and partially-sighted people to readily access these facilities.