On the International Day of Persons with Disabilities (IDPD) 2019, the Collaboration of International ICT Policy for East and Southern Africa called upon governments and communication services providers in East Africa to take decisive steps to enable meaningful usage of Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) for persons with disabilities.
Although there have been great advancements in the development of specialised assistive technology such as digital hearing aids, more general-purpose technologies such as ordinary computers, tablets and smartphones, that can offer significant opportunities for broader social and economic inclusion of persons with disabilities, widespread accessibility of ICT for persons with disabilities is still a dream in East Africa.
Barriers to access such as lack of awareness about available technologies and of what can be achieved through their use, limited trainings availed to PWDs in their adaptive use, and a absence of financial resources to purchase this hardware, software and the high costs of network connectivity are still a major challenge.
While Kenya, Tanzania, and Uganda recently enacted various laws and policies to advance the rights of persons with disabilities, including those on access to and use of ICT, these have largely remained on paper with key provisions not being implemented.
As a result, a large section of persons with disabilities continue to face digital exclusion. The situation is exacerbated by the high cost of assistive technologies, low literacy levels among persons with disabilities, and lack of investments in supportive infrastructure by public and private entities.
The lack of comprehensive disaggregated data, including the specific challenges that persons with different types of impairments face in accessing ICT, also undermines the implementation of interventions that would mainstream their access.
The provision of accessible information to persons with disabilities is essential to enable them to exercise their fundamental freedoms and human rights. In this regard, one of the pillars of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), is the pledge to leave no one behind, including in the use of ICT. Apart from endorsing the SDGs, Kenya, Tanzania, and Uganda have ratified to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD), the same treaty requiring that ICT tools should be accessible as a necessary condition for persons with disabilities to enjoy their fundamental rights.
East African countries have sufficient laws and policies, but the weakest link is the lack of implementation and enforcement.
Many of the challenges faced by persons with disabilities in accessing information can be mitigated through equitable access to ICT, meaningful implementation of the laws, and innovative investments in technologies that support inclusion of persons with disabilities.
As we get to the International Deaf Awareness Week, I call upon East African governments to:
Promote access to affordable assistive devices and technologies beyond tax exemptions and relying on donations.
Ensure that all e-government, e-services and emergency services comply with international web accessibility standards and are accessible for persons with disabilities.
Ensure that communication service providers have accessible handsets and other mobile devices embedded with accessibility features for persons with different kinds of disabilities within their sales outlets.
Ensure that licenced television service providers deliver accessible services such as audio description, audio subtitles, closed captions and signage language interpretation in their programmes to ensure access for persons with disabilities.
Godfrey Nanyenya is a disability inclusion specialist at Joy for Children Uganda. [email protected]