UNESCO launches new publication on accessible documentary heritage

Marking the International Day of Persons with Disabilities on 3 December 2020, UNESCO has released a new publication aiming at assisting stakeholders in the preparation of documentary heritage in accessible formats for persons with disabilities.
The publication, Accessible Documentary Heritage, offers a set of guidelines for parties involved in the digitization of heritage documents, including librarians, archivists, museums workers, curators, and other stakeholders in carefully planning digital platforms and contents with a view to incorporating disability and accessibility aspects.

The publication draws upon key features of the 2006 United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and the 2015 UNESCO Recommendation Concerning the Preservation of, and Access to, Documentary Heritage Including in Digital Form. This is in promoting and facilitating maximum inclusive access to, and use of, documentary heritage. The means to this is by empowering memory institutions to provide equitable person-to-person access services to original documents.

The publication has been structured in a way that makes it easy for different types of stakeholder to navigate and assess various aspects to which they must commit. For this purpose, two types of guidelines are proposed by the publication: a) basic guidelines – intended for stakeholders who commission documentary cultural heritage platforms; and b) advanced guidelines – prepared for content creators of these platforms.

Authored by Prof. Alireza Darvishy and Ms Juliet Manning, the publication also sheds light on barriers faced by persons with disabilities in getting access to digitized documentary heritage.

The release of the publication coincides with the recent emergence of digital cultural archives and collections – especially online collections. Although this has brought about a huge leap forward in terms of global access to culture, digital content remains frequently inaccessible to persons with disabilities – particularly to those with vision, hearing, motor, or cognitive impairments.

UNESCO, within the areas of its mandate, contributes to the implementation of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD), particularly related to Article 9 on Accessibility; Article 21 on Freedom of Expression and Access to Information; Article 24 on Education; Article 30 on Participation in cultural life, recreation, leisure and sports; as well as Article 31 on International Cooperation. In addition, in support for the implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, UNESCO has been involved in the UN Interagency Support Group on the CRPD and the UN Disability Inclusion Strategy.

The International Day of Persons with Disabilities was proclaimed in 1992, serving as an occasion to mobilize support for critical issues relating to the inclusion of persons with disabilities, promote awareness-raising about disability issues and draw attention to the benefits of an inclusive and accessible society for all. This year, under the theme “Building back better: towards an inclusive, accessible and sustainable post COVID-19 world by, for and with persons with disabilities”, UNESCO has invited all stakeholders to join the celebration through a week-long programme from 25 November to 3 December 2020.