Grassroots Initiatives for Digital Rights: Case Study 9 - Mexico
Accessibility Lab’s mission is to promote and defend digital rights, so that all people have equal access to information.
Physical accessibility for people with disabilities has been on the public agenda in Mexico for a long time.
There are established civil society organisations (CSOs) that have effective relationships with the government and private sector, and great progress has been made over the past few decades.
However, people with disabilities still do not have full access to the digital world, despite legislation requiring that all websites, apps and digital tools be accessible.
Instead of trying to start from scratch, Nancy Reyes and her team worked with CSOs, using their existing networks and relationships to facilitate introductions to government bodies and companies.
The team used their first small grant to assess Mexican universities’ websites, ranking them in terms of accessibility.
They did the same for private sector companies and government departments, creating awareness of the issue of digital accessibility and building relationships.
The larger Internews grant has enabled Nancy and her team to develop proposals for several government departments, including the Federal Institute of Telecommunications.
In 2019, this agency approved Accessibility Lab’s proposal to audit and train over 50 Mexican telecom providers, to ensure compliance with digital inclusion legislation.
This project is a prime example of how civil society can use legislation to effect change. As the law stands, companies risk a mandatory fine of 1% of their annual profits for every year that their websites, apps and tools do not comply with minimum accessibility standards.
This law has never been enforced before, but private sector telecoms operators now face the pressure of an external, independent organisation auditing them.
However, they also have the opportunity to take advantage of training and guidance from Accessibility Lab, who will also bring in CSOs for additional support on specific issues.
Nancy and her team anticipate that this will result in significant improvements in accessibility for people with disabilities. At the same time, training for CSOs has increased understanding of digital rights.
Before the training, people with disabilities made complaints about inaccessible websites, but nothing changed. But now, people understand that the law is being broken.
With technical support from Accessibility Lab, one CSO is now planning to bring Mexico’s first lawsuit against a company whose website is inaccessible.
Nancy says, “For the first time, companies understand that people with disabilities are serious about their rights. Now they risk fines and lawsuits… suddenly inclusion matters to them.”
Accessibility Lab has received requests for training from public and private transport companies, retailers and government bodies.
Clearly, the work of Nancy and her team in publishing audit results, increasing awareness of digital rights and contributing to an informed, empowered civil society is bringing about lasting change.
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(Banner photo: A blind man works on a computer using accessible software. Credit: TheDOITCenter/YouTube)