Rights of persons with disabilities

AI and rights of persons with disabilities

AI has the potential to increase accessibility, improve assistive technologies, and promote inclusivity for individuals with disabilities. However, it also brings challenges and ethical considerations that need to be addressed to ensure the rights and well-being of persons with disabilities are protected.

How AI empowers and transforms the rights of persons with disabilities

AI is helping individuals with disabilities in various ways. Voice recognition and language processing powered by AI enable hands-free device interaction for people with limited mobility. AI algorithms provide real-time captioning and sign language translation, making digital content more accessible to individuals with hearing impairments. AI is advancing assistive technologies like prosthetics and exoskeletons, improving mobility and functionality. Computer vision systems aid individuals with visual impairments in navigation and reading through text-to-speech conversion. AI communication tools support those with speech impairments, enhancing communication efficiency. Personalised AI assistants offer tailored assistance and information, empowering individuals to overcome daily challenges. AI-driven automation creates new job opportunities and facilitates flexible work arrangements for people with disabilities. AI also supports skills development, equipping individuals with the tools to succeed in the workforce.

Harnessing the power of AI to support accessibility for persons with disabilities also requires willingness and commitment from regulators, educators, designers, and content developers.

Balancing accessibility and risks for persons with disabilities

AI systems can inherit biases, leading to discriminatory outcomes that affect people with disabilities. Lack of diversity in training data can exacerbate existing disparities. Accessibility considerations may be overlooked in AI development, hindering participation and usage by people with disabilities. Privacy and data security concerns arise due to the collection and use of personal data in AI systems. Safeguards are needed to ensure ethical AI use. AI automation can disrupt employment, potentially limiting job opportunities for individuals with disabilities. Over-reliance on AI may diminish human engagement, impacting social interactions and inclusivity for people with disabilities.

Learn more on AI Governance.

There are approximately 1.3 billion people around the world, or 16% of the world’s population, who experience some form of disability

There are several factors that contribute to the increase in this number, including: human conflicts, destruction due to natural causes, and poverty and unhealthy living conditions, as well as a lack of knowledge about disabilities, and the associated causes, preventions, and treatments.

The internet provides new possibilities for social inclusion and for safeguarding the rights of persons with disabilities.

Disability and poverty


In order to maximise the technological possibilities for people with disabilities, there is a need for a robust internet governance and policy framework. The main international instrument in this field is the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, adopted by the UN in 2006 and signed by 181 countries (as of December 2019). It establishes rights that are now in the process of or are included in national legislation by the signatories, therefore making these rights enforceable.

The Convention requires states to take the necessary measures to create an enabling environment for persons with disabilities. For instance, it obliges states to:

  • undertake research and development, and promote the availability of accessible technology.

  • promote, develop, and provide access to ICTs, the Internet, and other new technologies, which others normally enjoy, and to do so at an early stage of development so that these technologies and systems become accessible at minimum cost.

  • provide information intended for the general public to persons with disabilities in accessible formats and technologies that are appropriate for different kinds of disabilities in a timely manner and without additional cost.

The Internet Rights and Principles Coalition (IRPC) and the Dynamic Coalition on Accessibility and Disability (DCAD) are both focused on the rights of persons with disabilities. In line with the Convention, the IRPC’s Charter of Human Rights and Principles for the Internet (Section 13) specifies that persons with disabilities have a right to access, on an equal basis with others, to the Internet and that steps must be taken to ensure the availability and effective use of the Internet by people with disabilities.

The DCAD Accessibility Guidelines (2015) – produced during the 10th Internet Governance Forum (IGF) in Brazil, detail steps that should be taken when organising an IGF meeting, such as choosing accessible facilities and using specific tools to make information accessible. While the guidelines may be specific to the IGF, they can also be used and applied in other contexts.

Since a lack of accessibility generally arises due to the gap between the abilities required to use hardware, software, and content, and the available abilities of a person with a disability, there are two main objectives when designing and implementing relevant policy measures:

  • Include accessibility standards in the requirements for the design and development of equipment, software, and content.

  • Foster the availability of accessories in hardware and software that increase or substitute the functional capabilities of the person.

When it comes to content, many web applications still do not comply with accessibility standards due to a lack of awareness or perceived complexity and associated high costs (such perceptions are in fact far from the current reality). International standards in web accessibility are developed by W3C in its Web Accessibility Initiative.

Awareness of the need for technological solutions that include people with disabilities is increasing in part due to the work of organisations that teach and foster support for the disabled community, such as the Global Initiative for Inclusive Information and Communication Technologies (G3ict), the European Disability Forum (EDF), the Internet Society Accessibility Special Interest Group, and the International Center for Disability Resources on the Internet.

In some of their latest work, the G3ict reviews the (positive) state of digital accessibility in the workplace of over 500 organisations in the USA, and how artificial intelligence, automated decision-making, and emerging technologies will impact persons with disabilities.