The East Africa Community member states have begun a process of formulating a policy on ICT accessibility for persons with disabilities (PWDs), with an aim of bridging the gap between the disabled persons and the non-disabled ones.
The process kicked off at two day meeting in Nairobi on Thursday that brought together regulatory and government officials from the member states. The meeting was organized by the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) regional office and hosted by Communications Authority of Kenya.
The member states intend to have a common policy approach to facilitate access by disadvantaged and marginalized groups, including persons with disabilities. Once formulated, the ICT accessibility Policy will be formally adopted and domesticated in all the countries in the region.
Globally it is estimated that more than a billion people in the world live with some form of disability, and 80 per cent of them live in developing countries.
A Kenya National Survey for Persons With Disabilities, conducted by the National Coordinating Agency for Population and Development, in 2008 showed that 4.6 per cent of Kenyans experience some form of disability and that more disabled persons reside in rural areas than in urban areas.
“We must, collectively, exercise joint responsibility to ensure the barriers and challenges are eliminated if not reduced so that they can be able to meaningfully use ICT products and services,” John Omo, Communications Authority of Kenya , Director Legal Services said in speech on behalf of Francis Wangusi, the Director General.
Although the mobile telephone technology is greatly improving accessibility to information in Africa, its applicability for use by people with disabilities is still highly wanting.
There are barriers to accessibility mainly because of the different designs of ICT tools used by people in the mainstream which are not adaptable for use by the PWDs.
These challenges include but are not limited to, absence of assistive technologies to help even the educated PWDs, the absence of clear intervention strategies by governments.
Marcelino Tayob, ITU Regional Office for Africa noted that the world has realized that despite the disabilities one may have, one can contribute to society and be productive if given the opportunity and if the environment is conducive and/or supportive.
“We hope that this region will be a pace setter in this regard and other regions in Africa will take steps to also have similar policies for their regions and for the benefit of their countries,” said Mr Tayob.
ITU is the specialized agency for the United Nations for the ICTs.
The East Africa Community representative said there is urgent need for member states to closely cooperate to adopt a common approach towards addressing the needs of the disadvantaged and the marginalized, including PWD.
“Given the promise of digital services, society cannot afford to leave People with Disabilities behind. It is imperative that policies, laws, and standards are implemented to ensure that digital services are accessible to all,” The East Africa Community representative.
“Based on that Treaty provision, the EAC can do pretty much with regard to ICT accessibility, including the recommendations that may come from this workshop.”