Inclusive Education

WCAG (Web Content Accessibility Guidelines) are essentially a checklist designed to provide access to electronic resources to persons with disabilities. These are steps we should take in order to make products, information, and services accessible to as many people as possible. Some measures are as simple as using Microsoft Word, enabling text size expansion, and implementing high contrast differences in colors on the document. The first set of standards (WCAG 2.0) was published in December 2008, with the second published 10 years later in December 2018 (WCAG 2.1). WCAG includes all requirements from WCAG 2.0 and additional resources and information. These guidelines are primarily intended for web content developers, web authoring tool developers, and web accessibility evaluation tool developers. However, students and teachers should also use these methods to make academia more accessible. In Article 24 of the CRPD countries must recognize the right of persons with disabilities to education. This must be done without discrimination and on the basis of euqal opportunity by ensuring an inclusive education system at all levels and lifelong learning. Despite 175 convention ratified countries and 92 convention and optional protocol ratified countries, most do not adequately meet the education standards outlined in the CRPD. Education is difficult to access in many countries for reasons due to gender and ethnic and racial discrimination, not to mention more difficiult for persons with disabilities.

There have been attempts around the world from exceptional initiatives and individuals to promote access to online resources for persons with disabilities. The Global Initiative for Inclusive ICTs (G3ICT) was launched in 2006 by the United Nations Global Alliance for ICT and Development in alignment with the CRPD. Its mission is to “promote the rights of persons with disabilities in the digital age.” Its main objectives through global outreach are to promote awareness of the ICT accessibility dispositions of the CRPD, support advocates and policy makers with capacity building programs, facilitate and share good practices and innovation, foster harmonization and standardization to lower costs and interoperability, and define and promote the accessibility profession. The initiative strives to accomplish these goals through many avenues such as training and certification opportunities, policy development, their annual m-enabling summit (fosters innovation and promotes accessible technologies), and institutional advocacy (often to governments). Additionally, individuals have contributed to the push towards accessible technology. Derrick Cogburn, an author and professor, has dedicated his career to global information and communication technology in regards to persons with disabilities. Cogburn worked to establish accessible cyberlearning in southeast Asia and taught a class for 12 years between different states and countries connected and presenting to each other online. These impressive initiatives and programs will connect the modern globalizing world. 

Disaster Risk Reduction and Management in Cities

Around the world, people are quickly migrating to cities to take advantage of increased opportunity, employment and services. This global movement has made Disaster Risk Reduction and Disaster Risk Management incredibly important. In large densely populated areas, the number of people impacted is much greater than in rural areas which often makes evacuation complicated. Additionally, natural disaster alert mechanisms and evacuation plans must be as inclusive and accessible as possible in crowded urban centers. These issues are central to the  Third UN World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction held in Sendai, Japan in 2015.

In order to discuss global issues and progress concerning natural disasters in cities, the UN World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction is held about every ten years. The principal outcome of the third conference was the Sendai Framework, which was adopted by UN member states at the conference in 2015. The framework is a 15-year, voluntary, non-binding agreement which recognizes that the state has the primary role to reduce disaster risk but other stakeholders, such as local governments and the private sector, should share responsibility. Over the course of 15 years, the framework aims to accomplish: “The substantial reduction of disaster risk and losses in lives, livelihoods and health and in the economic, physical, social, cultural and environmental assets of persons, businesses, communities and countries.”

While these outcomes are important, perhaps the most significant progress occurred before the Sendair conference, as the UN prepared to make it the most accessible and inclusive conference they’ve held in history. Sendai embraced the idea of inclusive disaster risk reduction by putting in place vehicles for persons with disabilities to come to the conference. Organizers considered transportation to the conference, accessible facilities and bathrooms, how people can speak and access platform, etc. The conference successfully accomplished all of this. Moreover, natural disaster risk reduction and management must be inclusive so that no one is left behind in an emergency. Evacuation plans should take into account inclusivity and first responders should be trained how to rescue persons with disabilities, which often includes the elderly because their needs are similar. The progress of these goals is discussed and analyzed every two years during follow-up conferences. Inclusivity comes in many forms, and in the case of natural disasters should also focus on communities that are disproportionately affected by climate change.

In the future, the UN World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction should place a greater emphasis on climate change mitigation, adaptation, and resilience in cities. Climate change is a major driver of increased disaster events occurring around the world. Unfortunately due to human activity and changing temperatures, reducing and managing the risk of these disasters through sustainable development must be a part of the UN World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction in the future in order to protect vulnerable populations and the earth.

World Urban Forum (WUF)

The World Urban Forum, established by the United Nations in 2001 and convened by UN-Habitat, takes place every two years to examine rapid urbanization and its impact on communities, economies, climate change, and policies. People around the world are increasingly moving from rural to urban communities to take advantage of job opportunities, services, infrastructure, and more. This movement has facilitated a variety of issues that need to be addressed through sustainable practices and technologies in order to allow future generations to grow and prosper in a way that doesn’t damage the earth. The outcomes of these forums must be upheld and implemented through policies, regulations, and social awareness.

The ninth session of the World Urban Forum (WUF9) was held in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia in 2018. The theme of this forum was Cities 2030, placing an emphasis on implementing the New Urban Agenda (NUA) adopted at Habitat III as a means to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). According to the WUF9 declaration, the participants concluded that these goals should be supported via increasing the role of subnational and local governments, encouraging the sharing of creative solutions, building inclusive partnerships, adopting integrated territorial development, and developing monitoring and reporting mechanisms. More specifically, they focused on emerging challenges that require urgent action such as responding to environmental degradation and climate change concerns. 

As populations continue to urbanize around the globe and cities are growing at faster rates, one of the key issues that cities will face is waste management. Living in a developed country that gives little regard to sustainable production and consumption practices, we must tackle this issue before it becomes a health crisis. According to the US Environmental Protection Agency, the United States generates more than 258 million tons of municipal solid waste each year. Sadly, a very small percentage of this gets recycled and the rest is hauled to a landfill. According to a 2018 report by the Solid Waste Environmental Excellence Protocol (SWEEP), the 2,000 active landfills in the United States are filling up. Not only do landfills prohibit the natural breakdown of some waste due to a lack of oxygen, but they also leak leachate, a combination of water and disposed of liquid waste, which presents a major threat to the quality of groundwater. As cities become bigger and more compact, landfills will begin to cause increasingly dangerous living conditions. In order to reduce our waste generation, we must invest in recycling and composting programs that will prevent a potential health crisis. At the tenth session of the World Urban Forum (WUF10) in 2020, these programs must be a part of the sustainable infrastructure and public works discussion to be implemented in cities around the world. 

Smart Cities, Habitat III, and the New Urban Agenda

The third and most recent United Nations Conference on Housing and Sustainable Urban Development, held every 20 years, took place in 2016. The preparatory process took several years leading up to the conference, with three prepcoms to encourage and organize regional and national participation beforehand. Regional Reports were collected to build National Reports and provide a powerful tool to aid in the sustainable development  The forum aimed to reinvigorate the global commitment to sustainable urbanization. Its primary objectives were “to secure renewed political commitment for sustainable urban development, assess accomplishments to date, address poverty, and identify and address new and emerging challenges.” The outcome document of the conference was the New Urban Agenda (NUA) which was endorsed by the UN General Assembly later that year. The document illustrates a shared vision for a sustainable future in which everyone has equal access to the benefits of cities. These cities will be reevaluated in terms of sustainable features and economic, environmental, and social benefits. Since the conference was held a year after the Sustainable Development Goals were established and adopted by all UN member states, it offered a unique opportunity to discuss the important challenges of sustainable city planning, development, and management. One significant aspect of sustainable development is improving waste management and infrastructure.

Landfills around the world are reaching their capacity. With a rapidly growing world population, people are producing more waste that is mismanaged and transported to overcrowded and harmful landfills. The adverse environmental and health impacts caused by poor waste management will continue to worsen as the threat of climate change looms. In order for us to combat the imminent global waste crisis that will place increased pressure on cities, we must develop sustainable solutions such as waste reduction, curbside compost programs, fostering innovation, and advancing technology. NUA commits to sustainable waste management in eight of its 175 commitments by supporting equal access to safe waste disposal, reducing and treating wastewater, food waste reduction, environmentally safe waste management, and more. The international community must continue to push and and follow through on promises to solve the waste management crisis that landfills have caused. 

SDG Overview and the High Level Political Forum (HLPF)

The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and HLPF are components of the United Nations’ policy on sustainable development. Each SDG has specific targets, and within each target several indicators in order to identify progress and achievement. A report is released annually that evaluates the progress of each goal in the last year. The HLPF replaced the Commission on Sustainable Development in 2012 through a mandate that emerged from the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20). The body meets annually under the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) and quadrennially under the General Assembly (heads of state and government). Its main function is the follow-up and review of the SDGs which were established in 2015 to be achieved by 2030. In 2019 the HLPF met under the auspices of ECOSOC and the General Assembly. ECOSOC addressed SDGs 4, 8, 10, 13, 16, 17. The overarching goal was to promote and empower people and ensure inclusiveness and equality. The General Assembly was held under the theme “Accelerating the Implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Agenda.” This was the first time the body had met since the adoption of the SDGs in 2015. It was a significant step in acknowledging the urgency of sustainable development.

Overall, the SDGs are more inclusive than their predecessor (MDGs). There are several more mentions of persons with disabilities in the SDGs. The goals at the center of the last annual conference incorporate persons with disabilities into several indicators or targets. For example, SDG 4 (Inclusive Education) focuses on equal access to all levels of education and vocational training for the vulnerable, including persons with disabilities, and upgraded education facilities that are disability sensitive. The HLPF also strongly encourages all members and representatives to participate in the annual forums. It stresses that the forum is the most inclusive and accessible body within the United Nations. However, the accessibility of the building in which the annual conferences are held must be significant as well.

The SDG Summit held under the General Assembly in 2019 produced the Political Declaration. The document outlines initiatives to accelerate sustainable development in the next decade. More than 100 accelerations emerged from the summit. The document reestablishes the ambitions goals of the 2030 Agenda, expresses concerns that progress is slow, launches targets for an accelerated decade of action, and pledges to strengthen the effective and participatory character of the HLPF. This summit was important because progress and international cooperation concerning the 2030 Agenda has been slow. Environmental threats such as climate change will not be overcome unless aggressive action is taken.

Global “Grand Challenge” of Inclusive Sustainable Development

Development is one of the most pressing challenges facing the world today. Historically, most human populations have progressed and developed at the expense of the environment and its health. Since the Industrial Revolution the world has exploited its resources for the sake of economic prosperity. We haven’t viewed the earth as a partner to respect and protect, but as an asset that we can abuse and capitalize on. In recent decades, there has been an increasingly urgent call to adjust our modes of development and apply sustainable solutions to our environmental problems. Governments, civil society organizations, and corporations are developing new strategies to minimize our impact and preserve the earth’s resources for future generations. This is a challenge involving every nation and population and will require a great deal of cooperation and collective action.

The United Nations, an intergovernmental organization and significant international player, has established ambitious goals for the world to meet in the coming decades. In 2000, The Millennium Summit of the United Nations established the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) to be reached by 2015. The eight goals addressed issues such as extreme poverty and hunger, universal primary education, gender equality and female empowerment, child mortality, maternal health, disease, environmental sustainability, and a global partnership for development. Debts owed to the IMF, World Bank, and African Development Bank by heavily indebted poor countries were settled by F8 finance ministers to allow their economies to redirect resources towards the development goals. Unfortunately, most of the MDGs were missed (narrowly) by 2015 and significant progress still needs to be done. However, the MDGs made substantial progress and have been hailed as the most successful anti-poverty movement in history.

The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) replaced the MDGs in 2015 and provide a more inclusive and structured action plan for development in the future. All United Nations Member States adopted the goals and strive to achieve them by 2030. The SDGs expand upon the MDGs in order to create a framework beyond the foundations of past decades. 2015 was an important year for international cooperation with the adoption of several major agreements concerning disaster risk reduction, financing for development, and climate change. 

Sustainable development will look different for each country depending on their history of development. It is important to remember that developed countries such as the United States were able to exploit their resources to whatever extent they deemed necessary to support their population and prosperity. Now these countries are able to adopt more sustainable methods due to increased technology and knowledge, as well as a stable economy to support them. Developing countries are in a different situation and it’s unfair to impose the same standards on them as developed nations. Their development was largely stalled due to colonization, and it is important to take this into account when establishing international goals. 

Using the ICTs for Inclusive Education

Although our class discussed inclusive education a while back, our recent talks on Information Communication Technologies (ICTs) are relevant in furthering educational opportunities. We learned that disability inclusive education is ensuring that all students, children, adults, and others have the available tools to be able to pursue their goals as equally as any other. It is a notion that has been received positively, yet not always implemented well. The article Educational Opportunities for Students with Disabilities by F.S. Haq highlights this point. When comparing trainee teachers’ attitudes to certain disabilities and students with higher support needs, Haq found generally positive attitudes toward including children with special needs in the general classroom, especially if the teachers have the appropriate sensitization and awareness exposure in training for this special and inclusive education (Haq and Lawrence). However, in the article’s survey, participants also supported inclusion but were not in favor of accommodating students with multiple disabilities and challenging behaviors (Haq and Lawrence). Positive attitudes are certainly a key component to inclusive education, but there needs to be action. Every person has a fundamental right to educational opportunities. I agree with Haq that special education courses should thus be incorporated into teacher training programs. Teachers should be able to accommodate for every student’s style of learning. It may be apprehensive and a lot to approach, but it must be done. Continue reading

Making Cities Resilient & Inclusive

With the impending climate crisis, the planet has already seen an increase in destructive natural disasters. From wildfires in California to severe flooding in Bangladesh, this is just the beginning of what could arise from climate change. While the main concern should be to tackle climate change at its core i.e., greenhouse gas emission, there is no harm in establishing disaster risk plans for when they are necessary. Continue reading

“It’s a Digital Policy Jungle Out There”

The complexity of global internet governance can not be understated; new issues and challenges arise every year. Consequently, this year is the fourteenth meeting of the UN Internet Governance Forum, in which the vision is “One World. One Net. One Vision.” The Forum, along with copious other discussion points, is a way to bring together the rights of individuals both offline and online. How does the evolution of technology impact the capacity for governing the internet? And what challenges have arisen for the future of the internet, and its regulation and related institutional mechanisms? 

We have all seen the drastically increasing presence of technology, specifically the internet, in our lives. Due to inefficiencies in governmental sectors, accounting, science and engineering, the world began to turn towards digitizing for increased productivity in these sectors. Throughout the 1960s and 1970s, several international organizations began using this technology for population and infrastructure censusing. The expansion of ICTs did come with a few economic unknowns. From this, two challenges that the implementation of ICTs faced around the world include its scalability and transferability across different geographic and contextual locations. 

One crucial aspect of the evolution of the internet that is necessary to point out is that it developed outside of any governmental or organizational context, and even outside of the Westphalian Sovereign State system at large. It grew without early regulation or government approval, which renders it a much more complex and convoluted issue to address. As such, internet governance faces domestic and international challenges. Global differences in culture and politics is a prime example. Countries like China have a completely government-monitored internet system in which they try to address problems through top-down changes in the structure of the internet. Comparing that to democratic nations, the demands for action and human rights are intrinsically different. Can this gap in mindset be bridged? If so, how? 

Another possible point of contention in the internet governance is definition-making. The two-phased summit, WSIS, worked to define internet governance, identify relevant stakeholders, and identify what their roles should be. In WSIS II, using the wording of “in their respective roles” gives stakeholders leniency [read: constructive ambiguity] in order to reach compromises on the shared principles and rules that shape the internet. The IGF brings people together to participate with these shared norms and the ITF meets to create a rough consensus and operational code for the internet, both allowing space for voices to be heard. Although these institutions may be slow and bureaucratic, they do provide a multi-stakeholder platform for discussion and rule-making, and due to the ever-increasing influence the ICTs have on development, regulation through compromise will be crucial.

Conceptualizing a Solution for Development Through ‘Moonshot Thinking’

A “grand challenge” is exactly what it sounds like: a complex problem that has a stubbornly defined solution (Branscomb). Tom Kahlil of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy defined grand challenges as “ambitious yet achievable goals that capture the public’s imagination and that require innovation and breakthroughs in science and technology to achieve.” One of the most well-known and inspiring historical examples of addressing a grand challenge is Robert F. Kennedy and his promise of the moon landing: “We choose to go to the moon in this decade.” Kennedy’s mindset of believing in the achievement of something nearly impossible, setting a timeframe, and planting the seeds of action is referred to as “moonshot thinking.” Proposing radical solutions to overwhelming problems through the use of research and science, technology, and innovation.  The Medium lays out a five step framework for the methodology of ‘moonshot thinking:’ (1) reset our ‘operating system’ and start thinking exponentially, (2) launching the moonshot, (3) landing the moonshot through trial and error, (4) transform yourself, (5) transform your company. 

This method can be utilized by any kind of actor in the pursuit of overarching problems, specifically the challenge of international development. The USAID addresses grand challenges for development through programs that mobilize governments, companies, and foundations, source new solutions, and test new ideas. Some of these programs include saving lives at birth, having all children reading, making all voices count, securing water for food, and many more. Even though this list only shows a small percentage of all of the challenges of development, it is easy to see how these issues span across all aspects of people’s lives. The Millenium Development Goals (MDGs) were the first commitment of its magnitude to consolidate the efforts of meeting the needs of the worlds’ poorest people.  Building off of the MDGs, the UNGA created the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.  The 2030 Agenda is an action plan for “people, planet, and prosperity.” The SDGs are comprised of 17 lofty goals addressing the grand challenge that development poses, each goal accompanied by several targets and indicators in a time-bound fashion to measure the progress towards achieving the goal. Why is ‘moonshot thinking’ relevant for sustainable development? Even though landing on the moon seemed impossible to most, comparable with ending world hunger or poverty, or achieving all of the SDGs, with committed investment in research, innovation and technology, we can achieve truly extraordinary things.