Embracing ICTs to Transform Lives of People Living with Disabilities
The World Health Organisation (WHO) states that 15 percent of the world population is living with disabilities.
However, information and communication technologies (ICTs) have the potential to make significant improvements in the lives of these persons, allowing them to enhance their social and economic integration in communities by enlarging the scope of activities available to them.
ICTs can transform the lives of those with greater disabilities far more than they can the lives of those with fewer disabilities.
Sadly, continental – if not – global commitments to ensuring universal access have all too often failed to sufficiently address the specific needs of people with particular disabilities.
This means people living with disabilities are suffering, as a result of barriers that stop them from accessing ICT products and services.
A synthesis report of the ICT Consultation in support of the High-Level Meeting on Disability and Development of the 68th session of the United Nations General Assembly in September this year, titled “The ICT Opportunity for a Disability-Inclusive Development Framework, identifies the barriers that people with disabilities experience in accessing and using ICTs such as web services, mobile devices, television, electronic kiosks such as ATMs, and computers.
The barriers include the cost of making ICTs accessible – the price of the technology as well as training and support for using it, and the cost of assessing the person’s requirements – and poor implementation of policies to foster the creation of accessible ICTs.
Removing these barriers should therefore be of paramount importance since no one in this world should be excluded from using mobile phones, the Internet, televisions, computers, electronic kiosks and their myriad of applications and services including in education, political life, and cultural activities.
Being excluded from these ICT-enabled applications implies being shut down not only from the information society, but also from accessing essential public services, as well as from the opportunity of living an independent life.
Ensuring accessibility of ICTs for persons with disabilities and expanding access to these technologies, as well as to assistive technologies, should therefore become a key element of national, regional and continental strategies to remove the remaining barriers faced by persons with disabilities.
For this to work, ICTs must be an integral part of a disability-inclusive development agenda in countries within the African continent.
Accordingly, African countries should be committed to championing the interests of people with disabilities, seeking to ensure that they are not further disadvantaged by the increasing expansion of ICTs across the world.
Thus, to effectively embrace ICTs for the benefit of people living with disabilities, governments should play a key role in stimulating the introduction of ICT-enabled solutions adapted to the needs of persons with disabilities, increasing the availability of accessible ICTs and promoting the affordability of assistive technologies in social, educational, economic and other domains.
These benefits can be achieved through the promotion of national innovation systems that foster public-private collaboration, as well as development and diffusion of knowledge, accessible products and content as well as assistive technologies.
“The integration and usage of accessible ICT products and services, and the reasonable accommodation of the workplace (including the provision of the necessary assistive technologies) facilitate the participation of persons with disabilities in the labour market,” remarked David Zanoletty, Manager of the ICT and Research and Development department, Fundacion ONCE.
The ICT Opportunity for a Disability-Inclusive Development Framework report suggests that governments should update disability legislation.
It said, “Governments should update disability legislation to include ICTs and include accessibility requirements in their procurement policies, as well as promote the availability and affordability of accessible ICTs and assistive technologies.”
More so, African governments, the private sector and the civil society must promote effective training programmes on e-inclusion to ensure that all citizens benefit from ICTs.
The private sector’s role should be to increase efforts to develop accessible ICTs, as well as addressing the shortage of professionals with ICT accessibility skills whilst civil society organisations and institutions of people living with disabilities should raise policymakers’ awareness of barriers to accessibility.
Amal Kharbichi, ICT accessibility programme officer at the Switzerland-based International Telecommunications Union, an agency of the UN said that support for assistive technology is “extremely weak in most developing nations” and that the assistive ICT solutions are still too costly.
Consequently, African countries should invest heavily in assistive technologies to increase the affordability and availability of ICTs to people living with disabilities. Solutions to help disabled people in Africa should be cost effective and robust, and account for unreliable electricity supplies in rural areas.
It is also critical for African governments to use platforms such as the International Day of Persons with Disabilities to promote an understanding of disability issues; to mobilise support for the dignity and well-being of persons with disabilities; and also to increase awareness of gains to be derived from the inclusion of persons with disabilities in every aspect of life.
Malcolm Johnson, Elected Director of the International Telecommunications Union Telecommunication Standardisation Bureau believes the divide that separates persons with disabilities from other persons, in having equal and easy access to ICT, must be bridged.
The African Union should therefore work to meet disability-inclusive development goals, as well as monitor efforts at the continental, regional and national levels.