The Urban Agenda: Transforming digital infrastructure for an inclusive 2030

The Urban Agenda: Transforming digital infrastructure for an inclusive 2030

This article is part of the Forum Network series on the New Societal Contract and Digitalisation and reflects on discussions at OECD Forum 2019 in Paris. But it doesn't stop there – wherever you are, become a member of the global Forum Network community to comment below and continue the conversation!

Urbanisation is one of the most consequential trends of our society today, with more than half of the population living in cities and towns today. The vast majority of this urban shift, approximately 90%, will happen in Africa and Asia. Local governments are struggling to reinvent the provisions of public services for their residents, particularly for the most marginalised. Of these marginalised groups, persons with disabilities are a diverse community representing 15% of the population, and 80% live in the Global South. More than half of all persons with disabilities now live in cities and towns; a number that is expected to grow to 1 billion by 2030. Persons with disabilities also face multiple forms of discrimination and exclusion because of inaccessibility in the built, digital and social environments. With these trends and estimates disrupting the development agenda, we must ensure that cities are centres of human rights that guarantee universal access and bridge the development divide so that no one is left behind.

Cape Town, South Africa. Approximately 90% of the global urban shift will happen in Africa and Asia.
Photo by Captureson on Unsplash

Digital Accessibility for Inclusion 

Investments and innovations in technology by governments and companies are reshaping the way we see development, work and accessing information. This creates unprecedented opportunities to improve human rights, ensure good governance, enhance civic engagement and further inclusive economic growth. As technology becomes more embedded in cities, we must take a human rights-based approach if we are to achieve the ambitious goals of the 2030 Agenda.


The Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities is one of the first human rights instruments to recognise technology and the accessibility of technology as a human right. The focus on technology in the Convention highlights the importance of digitalisation for meaningful participation. There are now many international policies and standards on digital accessibility that have led to innovations today that benefit everyone, including text to speech and predictive text. These advances were not only led by compliance but also data that turned the attention of the private sector to their market of persons with disabilities, which with their relatives, have an annual disposable income of USD 9 trillion dollars. Accessibility in this regard is not only a human right – it's good for business. This tie between development, human rights and business objectives has led to substantial investments from large companies such as Microsoft and Google in accessible technology, that is bridging the digital divide.

The Way Forward 

Have we found the concrete recipe for inclusion through leave no one behind and digital transformation? Digital accessibility standards are gaining traction, but accessibility and disability must be mainstreamed in the development agenda. Development agencies and industry, in co-ordination with national and local governments and civil society organisations, have a key role in bridging the digital divide through inclusive financing and implementation of major projects across the world.

In a study conducted by World Enabled (available now through the Secretariat and online in August 2019), out of the 1,200 active digital development projects only 4% of them make mention to persons with disabilities as beneficiaries. Along with this study, the Smart Cities for All Initiative surveyed 180 smart city and digital accessibility experts and found less that 20% of them knew of smart city initiatives that utilised international standards on ICT Accessibility. 

Development agencies and governments must make accessibility a priority in their digitalisation initiatives if we are to truly leave no one behind. Stronger partnerships between different stakeholders including the private sector, civil society and academia are key in further developing the tools and data to support municipalities and development practitioners in turning accessible strategies into action.


What are some proactive steps in generating a greater commitment to operationalise digital accessibility towards inclusion? 

  • Make use of peer learning networks and knowledge sharing. Enhance awareness and build communities of practice on benefits and programmes on digital accessibility by connecting governments, the private sector, academia and organisations of persons with disabilities (DPOs) and older persons
  • Utilise disability-inclusive language in projects documents and safeguards
  • Better disaggregated data on disability, along with gender, age and geography, which also points to the benefits of digital accessibility for socioeconomic inclusion
  • Accessibility should also be considered with Affordability of internet, in which access is determined by the amount people that have access to the internet and access to the information available on the in Internet
  • Persons with disabilities and older persons must be actively engaged and involved in the developments of solutions guiding digital transformation
OECD Report Policy Highlights: Rethinking Urban Sprawl: Moving Towards Sustainable Cities
Image: OECD


  • Are there existing sustained partnerships between developmental agencies and organisations of persons with disabilities and older persons? If not, how can we improve this?
  • Are the financial budgets of governments and developmental agencies being properly allocated to ensure no one is left behind in digital development efforts, particularly persons with disabilities?
  • Could digital technology be the key to monitoring human rights, as well as creating a tangible way to monitor inclusion? How do we ensure disaggregation of data while also guaranteeing privacy of the sensitive data of each group?

The study “Digital Development for All: Leveraging Digital Development in International Development” is available now through the World Enabled Secretariat and online in August 2019.

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Related Topics

Digital Inclusion Sustainable Development Goals OECD Forum 2019

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OECD Forum 2019: World in EMotion

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