woman in wheelchair working at desk with laptop. man sitting across desk

Accessibility and Sustainability: Considering the Global Picture

New York City, Las Vegas are among the 10 most accessible cities in the world for people with disabilities,” reported CNBC.com in November 2022. Orlando is the only other North American city among the top ten: the remaining seven are London, Paris, Amsterdam, Tokyo, Singapore, Shanghai, and Sydney.

In any part of the world, high accessibility tends to go with high technological development, high GDP, and high standards of living—no surprise, since even the simplest accommodations take some resources and big-picture thinking. Where overall quality of life is poor, so is the attention and investment given to change.

woman sitting in wheelchair outside a building with laptop

Global Attention to Disability Concerns

In 1992, the United Nations proclaimed the first “International Day of Persons with Disabilities” (IDPD), which is still recognized annually on December 3. Its purpose is to emphasize “the United Nations’ commitment to the fulfilment of all human rights for persons with disabilities” and to “promote an understanding of disability issues and to mobilize support for the dignity, rights and well-being of persons with disabilities.”

In an age of resource-conservation concerns, the IDPD now emphasizes keeping development sustainable, as well as inclusive. (For a detailed review, see the UN 2023 IDPD Commemoration Event video, which features a panel on “five pillars of sustainable development”: People, Planet, Prosperity, Peace, and Partnerships.)

Digital Technology for a Better Future

One major sustainable-development tool is 21st-century digital technology, which is now not only ubiquitous but essential for quality of life. Everything from apps to AI has potential for reaching isolated and under-served communities with:

  • Improved healthcare access
  • Remote educational resources
  • Remote work opportunities
  • Dialogue to improve understanding of other countries and cultures
  • “Smart” technologies that improve infrastructure by monitoring fuel consumption, water use, food production, waste disposal, and recycling

Ideal sustainability and inclusiveness is built on the following principles:

  • Before making action plans, or even setting goals, get input from the actual community intended to benefit. (As the saying goes, “Nothing About Us Without Us.”)
  • Emphasize how accessibility builds a more effective society by bringing in more workers and other contributors. Focus on people’s strengths, not just their needs.
  • Speak out against stigma, and encourage open acknowledgment of—and pride in—differences. Recognize that one person in six has a disability (some experts say one in four), and all of us are impacted in some way.
  • Stay flexible, ready to adapt to new needs and technologies.
  • Encourage everyone to be a lifelong learner, staying open to new (and rediscovered) developments and viewpoints. Especially, encourage ongoing exploration of every individual’s full potential.
dad sitting in wheelchair with daughter on lap holding a phone, both laughing

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