Tribune News Network
The importance of building a more inclusive and accessible future that does not replicate existing accessibility barriers – both in the physical and digital worlds – was stressed at the latest edition of Qatar Foundation’s Education City Speaker Series.
Dr. Victor Pineda, President and Founder of the Pineda Foundation and World Enabled, spoke on ‘Recognising a Right: Why We Need to Build an Accessible World’.
The talk, organised in collaboration with the World Innovation Summit for Health (WISH) – Qatar Foundation’s (QF) global healthcare initiative – explored the challenges that people with disabilities continue to face, how they can be overcome, and why shaping a truly accessible world is everyone’s responsibility.
“If people are still just thinking of elevators and ramps when they hear accessibility, then they are missing the entire conversation. We’re talking about innovation, transformation, and building a future where all people can express their full potential,” said Dr. Pineda.
He highlighted the need for increased advocacy, saying: “Advocacy isn’t just a destination, it’s a way of thinking and opening the door for discussion and debate. And, recognising the dreams, hopes, frustrations, and barriers of persons with disabilities.
“We can’t stop there, we need to go beyond just inspiring people to advocate for change, but also equipping them with the appropriate tools and expertise to bring about change.”
Dr. Pineda, who is a frequent visitor to Qatar and has seen the country drastically change as it has prepared to host the upcoming FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022, said: “I can tell you from experience, it will be by far the most accessible FIFA World Cup in history.
“I hope that the momentum generated around accessibility will live on beyond the World Cup and that all the work done on accessibility will be disseminated to every school, to every place of employment, and to every public space, so persons with disabilities can continue to benefit from it.”
According to Dr. Pineda, the only way to succeed in creating truly accessible and inclusive spaces is to have an integrated cross-sectoral approach to identifying and eliminating barriers and looking at those barriers in a holistic way. “Think beyond ramps and look at innovation – think about tech and digital accessibility – which is a disruptive force to unlocking new capabilities in the public, private, and education sector.”
He highlighted that by being digitally accessible, organisations can future proof their digital infrastructure. “If we do it right, technology can unlock potential and elevate the voices and aspirations of those that are most marginalised.”
Dr. Pineda also stressed the need to involve more people with disabilities in the innovation sphere. “Persons with disabilities make up 15 percent of the global population, but less than 1 percent of venture capital investments go to founders of enterprises that are people with disabilities. There is a huge investment gap when it comes to innovation for and by persons with disabilities.”
Speaking to organisations and policymakers, Dr. Pineda asked them to approach the topic of accessibility and inclusion from a place of curiosity and openness. “Understand how this fits into your existing plans. Don’t think about it just for diversity and inclusion, think about it as innovation and transformation, and an exciting way to unlock potential within your organization.”
He called on organisations, particularly HR departments, to actively create a barrier free environment for people with disabilities. And to bring in trusted partners to help develop a bigger narrative, not just about specialised services, but about what it means to have an inclusive workplace. “The way an organisation hires directly indicates what it values, so make sure to build accessibility into it,” he said.
Commenting on inclusion and accessibility in education and the active role of teachers in it, he asked teachers to approach the space with humility. He said: “Believe the parents. Believe the child. They are not lying about disability. Be open to the possibility of changing the curriculum, to the possibility of adjusting, and to the possibility of learning something from the students and the parents. Open yourself up to new discoveries.”
Arabic sign language was available at the event, which took place at Qatar National Library in Education City.
Dr. Pineda will be speaking tomorrow at WISH, being held from October 4-6, at a Doha Debates session titled “Should We Engineer A World Without Disability?”