In a pioneering data-driven investigation, the Mozambican Disabled Person’s Organisation Forum (FAMOD) has teamed up with UK-based non-profit Data4Change to run automated accessibility testing on 90 of the most important and useful websites in Mozambique.
The result is a publicly-available dataset of 722,053 instances of accessibility ‘violations’. Each violation represents a barrier preventing someone with a visual, hearing, physical or cognitive impairment from fully engaging with the web page.
The investigation revealed that just five types of accessibility violations accounted for nearly 90% of all the violations found. These top five violations were low colour contrast (37% of violations found), lack of landmarks to identify regions of a page (33%), links that aren’t made apparent (11%), no descriptive text for interactive elements (3%) and no ‘alt text’ for images (2%). The violations were defined according to international standards for web accessibility as described under the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.0 and 2.1 (WCAG 2.0 and 2.1).
Cantol Alexandre Pondja, President at FAMOD noted that access to ICT is essential for persons with disabilities, adding that, “It is clear from the results of our investigation that the majority of websites, including those providing public and essential services, remain largely inaccessible for persons with disabilities. As a result, FAMOD plans to strengthen the advocacy work in this area and we look forward to working with political authorities, the private sector, and donors as part of this effort.”
Some of the worst-performing websites include a job ads site, a large telecoms provider and a government tax authority. One screen reader user told FAMOD, “In most websites there comes a stage when it is not possible to use. I finished my studies recently and when I went to the job website, I was not able to apply for a job, because when I get to the end of the first page of jobs I can’t move onto the next. I end up giving up.”
The www.a11y.co.mz platform provides more information about the investigation and invites Mozambican web content creators, designers, and developers to test their existing knowledge with an accessibility quiz; pledge to uphold accessible and inclusive design principles in their work as well as access a free ‘digital toolkit’ containing resources to help with writing, designing and developing more accessible websites.
Bronwen Roberston, Director of Data4Change which works on data-driven projects aimed at solving issues affecting underrepresented and marginalised groups stated that, “a11y.co.mz proves that there’s a long way to go to ensure the internet is accessible for people with disabilities in Mozambique, but that there are some easy and concrete steps that can be taken to improve the current situation.”
The investigation was carried out in the context of the Africa Digital Rights Fund (ADRF) which is an initiative of the Collaboration on International ICT Policy for East and Southern Africa (CIPESA). According to CIPESA’s Programmes Manager, Ashnah Kalemera, Mozambique, like many other African countries, ratified the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which places significant obligations on state parties for equal opportunities and inclusion of persons with disabilities. “a11y indicates that these obligations remain largely unimplemented and, as a result, a large section of persons with disabilities continue to face digital exclusion. CIPESA is really proud to partner with FAMOD in raising awareness of disability rights issues as they intersect with technology and access to information in Mozambique,” said Kalemera.
In November 2020, CIPESA alongside, FAMOD, Small Media, and the Associação de Cegos e Amblíopes de Moçambique made a joint stakeholder submission on digital rights in Mozambique which in April 2021, will be assessed under the Universal Peer Review (UPR) process at the United Nations Human Rights Council. Indeed, among the recommendations made was a call to the government to implement measures that promote inclusive access for marginalised and vulnerable groups including women, rural communities, and persons with disabilities, with funding from the Universal Service Fund.
While the Coronavirus disease (Covid-19) continues to ravage the world, there is growing concern that critical messages about the disease that are disseminated by health authorities, telecom companies, and broadcasters are not reaching persons with visual and hearing impairments.
Various telecommunication companies, such as MTN Uganda, Safaricom in Kenya, MTN Ghana, have also removed service charges on mobile money transactions and discounted internet data prices so as to increase accessibility and affordability of the internet.
In South Africa, Vodacom and MTN are “zero-rating” information portals run by the country’s Department of Health, meaning they allow users to access vital information about the disease even when they do not have data bundles. Vodacom customers can get free vital information about the Covid-19 pandemic by visiting the website, www.sacoronavirus.co.za.
However, concern is growing that some persons with disabilities are being left behind in accessing information on Covid-19. This is because, despite the recent expansion in the usage of ICT in the region, a large section of persons with disabilities faces digital exclusion due to lack of access and affordability of the requisite ICT tools and equipment, as well as failure by broadcasters and telecom operators to provide information and services in disability friendly formats.
Ms. Judy Okite, a disability rights activist and founder of the Association for Accessibility and Equality, says that in Kenya, it is “once in a while when they [media and government] remember there is a [need for a] sign language interpreter during Covid-19 related press briefing but, it’s very unsatisfactory.” She adds that there are no messages in braille, and for live broadcasts of discussions by national experts leading the fight against Covid-19, there is neither sign language nor captions.
The situation is similar in Ethiopia, according to Awoke Dagnew, who works with the Ethiopian charity organisation Together! He says most persons with disabilities in Ethiopia are being excluded because “most of the messages and platforms are in formats and via [electronic] channels that persons with disabilities have limited access to,” namely, television, radio, social media and telephone messages.
While several African countries have enacted laws and policies to advance the rights of persons with disabilities, including those on access and use of ICT, these laws have largely remained on paper as key provisions are neither being implemented nor enforced. For example, while broadcasters are required by law in many African countries to have sign language insets or subtitles in newscasts, educational programmes and other programmes covering national events, there is little evidence of this being done. Indeed, some key television broadcasts and public service announcements related to Covid-19 have neither sign language interpretation nor sub-titling.
“In Uganda, [whereas] the Ministry of Health released a video in sign language with general information, still graphics used in most informative materials are not in font types, sizes and colour combinations [optimised] for the visually impaired,” observed Mohamed Kimbugwe, the Digitalization and Human Rights Technical Advisor at the GIZ office in Uganda. Moreover, while major television stations have sign language interpretation on major new bulletins, this is not always the case for other crucial public awareness campaigns, such as press conferences and updates from the national Covid-19 task force.
In Nigeria, sections 24 and 25 of the Discrimination Against Persons with Disabilities (Prohibition) require public hospitals and the government to ensure that persons with disabilities are given special considerations, including provision of special communication during situations of risk, emergicies (such as Covid-19) and other natural causes.
In the wake of declaring Covid-19 a global pandemic, the WHO issued guidelines to mitigate the impact of the outbreak on persons with disabilities. It called upon governments to take action to ensure that persons with disabilities are not left behind in the fight against Covid-19. Regarding Covid-19 public health information and communication, the WHO urged governments to:
Include captioning and, where possible, sign language for all live and recorded events and communications. This includes national addresses, press briefings, and live social media.
Convert public materials into “Easy Read” format so that they are accessible for people with intellectual disability or cognitive impairment.
Develop accessible written information products by using appropriate document formats, (such as “Word”), with structured headings, large print, braille versions and formats for people who are deafblind.
Include captions for images used within documents or on social media. Use images that are inclusive and do not stigmatise disability.
Work with disability organisations, including advocacy bodies and disability service providers to disseminate public health information.
The International Disability Alliance (IDA) has also issued key recommendations towards a disability-inclusive Covid-19 response, including the requirement that persons with disabilities must receive information about infection mitigating tips, public restriction plans, and the services offered, in a diversity of accessible formats with use of accessible technologies.
The implementation of the WHO and IDA guidelines and recommendations need not be treated as a favour, as African governments are obligated under both the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) and the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in Africa (ACHPER PD) to provide equal opportunities, accessibility and inclusion of persons with disabilities. Specifically, Article 9(b) of the CRPD requires states to take appropriate measures to ensure that persons with disabilities have access, on an equal basis with others, to information, communications and other services, including electronic services and emergency services.
Additionally, Article 25(b) of the CRPD requires states to take all appropriate measures to ensure access for persons with disabilities to health services (and information) that are gender-sensitive, including health-related rehabilitation.
On the other hand, state are required, under Article 19(2) of the ACHPER PD Protocol to put in place policy, legislative, administrative and other measures to ensure these rights, on the basis of equality, including requiring private entities, such as telecom and television companies, to provide information and services in accessible and usable formats for persons with disabilities.
Re-echoing the WHO guidelines, Okite recommends that governments and other agencies, including telecom and broadcasting companies involved in the design and dissemination of Covid-19 related public information, should ensure that they make all the information accessible to persons with disabilities. “If it’s online content, let it be in an accessible format, in some instances use diagrams, in a live interview /discussion let there be transcriptions or sign language that all persons may get information first-hand to avoid anxiety and fear and misunderstanding.”
Televised programmes that feature experts discussing Covid-19 should have sign language interpreters and transcriptions to enable persons with visual and hearing impairments to benefit from the expert knowledge.
In Uganda, the National Union for Persons with Disability (NUDIPU) has called for the suspension of the social media tax (OTT) whose introduction in 2018 exacerbated the digital exclusion of marginalised populations, to enhance access to information and ease communication for persons with disabilities, especially the deaf.
In designing and disseminating Covid-19 related messages, telecom companies need to ensure that these are in multiple formats – including SMS, audio, visual and in disability friendly formats.
By Center for Human Rights and CIPESA |
The study on Civil society in the digital age in Africa: identifying threats and mounting pushbacks was undertaken by the Centre for Human Rights, University of Pretoria and the Collaboration on International ICT Policy in East and Southern Africa (CIPESA) to explore the extent of state-sponsored digital challenges that the civil society in Africa is faced with. It illustrates the challenges faced by civil society organisations and the importance of digital security measures.
Considering the digital threats contributing to the shrinking civic space on the continent, the study highlights the international and regional framework governing the activities of civil society. It further maps the national legislative and policy threats against civil society in selected African countries: Egypt, Sierra Leone, Uganda and Zambia. The study shows how these digital threats not only limit the operations and existence of civic society but also impede the enjoyment of human rights such as the freedoms of association, assembly and the right to freedom of expression.
Based on the findings of the study, it is argued that civil society organisations are significant players in the democratic development and protection and promotion of human rights and thus, their operations and rights should be safeguarded. The study, therefore, calls on African governments to respect their obligations under international human rights law and adopt measures that enable civil society to perform their mandate in promoting good governance, accountability and respect of human rights on the continent, especially in the context of the digital age. The study also recommends the civil society to devise methods of countering digital threats. This could be done through the development and implementation of human rights-sensitive organisational data protection, digital security policies and enhanced organisational understanding of how they can harness digital technologies for digital security purposes. Further, the study encourages the private sector and funders to support and complement the efforts by the civil society in advancing digital rights and opening up the civic space.
Civil society in the digital age in Africa: identifying threats and mounting pushbacks
Civil society in the digital age in Africa identifying threats and mounting pushbacks
This report documents the threats to civil society in the digital age by examining the legislative and regulatory framework, as well as state action in four countries in Africa: Egypt, Sierra Leone, Uganda and Zambia. The recommendations emanating from the research call for the states to revise and repeal identified restrictive laws and align them with international standards.
Evidence-based digital rights advocacy has become particularly crucial in Africa as a growing number of governments and powerful private actors continue to undermine citizens’ online rights through legal and extra-legal means.
But as the need for internet policy advocacy that is informed by research grows, it is essential to increase the amount and depth of research originating from, and relevant to, Africa. Equally, it is necessary to expand beyond traditional research methods to include contemporary approaches such as network measurements, social network analysis, and data mining.
How then do we grow subject area expertise and capacity in conducting multi-disciplinary digital rights research among the digital rights researcher and practitioner communities? How can we build multi-sector and multi-country collaborations that produce actionable research results to inform advocacy and policy making?
These questions were at the centre of a Digital Rights Research Methods Workshop conducted on September 24, 2019 as one of the pre-events to the 2019 Forum on Internet Freedom in Africa (FIFAfrica19) in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. The workshop was attended by 58 participants who included university lecturers, staff of international human rights organisations, digital rights researchers, activists, technologists and lawyers.
Below are highlights from the Digital Rights Research Methods Workshop held at FIFAfrica19.
Qualitative Research Techniques and Data Practices for Human Rights Research
This track explored the role and potential of qualitative methods and techniques when conducting research on human rights issues. While many techniques are available to researchers, qualitative methods can generate important insights into the social, cultural, and individual worlds of participants.
In this session, Prof. Peter Fussey, a Director at the Centre for Research into Information, Surveillance and Privacy (CRISP) at the University of Essex, explained that while qualitative methods are varied, they largely adopt three broad approaches: qualitative interviewing, ethnographic method, and qualitative text analysis.
While describing these methods in detail, Prof. Fussey – who is also a Research Director of the Human Rights, Big Data and Technology project – explained what constitutes robust and methodologically rigorous research. He provided examples of how such techniques have been used in many creative ways and have offered insights into issues such as how power is experienced and mediated in prisons, the lives of activists, social bonds among social movements, community perspectives of intensive policing, online behaviours, and occupational cultures among law enforcement officers.
Experiences in conducting digital rights research In this session, Jimmy Kainja (University of Malawi), Raymond Onuoha (Lagos Business School), Richard Ngamita (data specialist), Victor Kapiyo and Paul Kimumwe (CIPESA), shared experiences in researching digital rights. They cited several challenges like data unavailability, low research funding, resistance to researching on “sensitive” topics like LGBTI rights, continued reliance on traditional research approaches, underutilisation of available digital data, difficulties in finding government information online, and difficulty in finding the right collaborators.
According to Kimumwe, there is a lack of a pool of researchers with the relevant skills to conduct digital research. “There is no specific training of researchers. There is a lot of learning on the job and this sometimes compromises on the quality of research outputs since some critical issues are ignored – like choosing the best possible method, sampling and ethical considerations,” he said.
Other challenges mentioned include poor dissemination of research results to relevant audiences including policy makers and human rights defender organisations; and failure to make research part and parcel of digital rights advocacy work. It was recommended that, wherever feasible, government officials and other stakeholders be included in the research design in order for the research results to be used to influence these stakeholders. Also recommendation was nurturing collaborations involving academic institutions, research institutions and digital rights advocacy organisations; capacity building in fundraising for research; and developing an African open data ecosystem to enhance access to research data, data sharing, and data re-use.
Assessing Legal Frameworks Affecting Civic Space
Track three of the workshop introduced participants to the concepts of civic space and international principles protecting association, assembly, and expression rights. During the session, Irene Petras and Florence Nakazibwe from the International Center for Non-Profit Law (ICNL), provided examples of how various types of legislation are used to restrict these rights in practice, including in the digital space; and shared strategies on how to raise civic awareness of legal frameworks and promote legal reforms to improve the enabling environment for civil society and the media.
It was noted that governments, including in Africa, are increasingly restricting civic space in different ways. While the restrictions have traditionally manifested through legislation aimed at regulating the operations of civil society organisations and mainstream media, new concerns such as countering money laundering and terrorism, regulating current and emerging digital technologies, and policing online activities have widened the menu of laws, policies and administrative practices that can negatively affect civic space.
Accordingly, noted Petras and Nakazibwe, greater efforts are needed to ensure effective and progressive international and continental legal standards and protective mechanisms, and to widen the network of state and non-state actors who can advocate for positive reforms.
The Internet Measurements Laboratory
The growing internet user numbers in Africa make it prudent to understand the structure and behaviour of the internet. This is important given the rising incidents of malicious attacks (and the sophistication of methods and tools used) as well as the increase in cases of internet censorship and network disruptions (with little transparency by censoring states and telecom companies about their actions).
The Laboratory was led by Alp Toker and Isik Mater of Netblocks. In the first part they took participants through why measurement evidence-based approaches to internet rights advocacy are critical, what impact they are having, how the latest tools can be used and coordinated by technical and civil society stakeholders, and how data can be integrated as evidence in legal and policy-making contexts. The second half featured real-time visualisations exploring various countries’ current and historic internet data readings, and future directions for network measurements.
Measuring the occurrence of internet censorship and identifying techniques employed is instrumental to scientifically documenting the phenomenon, understanding its effects, raising the awareness of users and building response mechanisms. The aim of the Internet Measurement Laboratory was to get more African actors, notably those that work on internet freedom issues, involved in conducting regular, multi-methods internet measurements.
The Laboratory was also expected to help generate closer linkages between measurement organisations and internet freedom researchers, advocates and activists; and offer practical knowledge on how to utilise measurement data from entities so as to generate research insights to improve understanding of the technological ways through which internet disruptions have been implemented over time and in various countries, and to build responsive response mechanisms and advocacy campaigns.
According to 2018 research by the African Network Information Centre (Afrinic), there are very few measurement campaigns in Africa and they tend to have challenges of generating high fidelity data. Moreover, there is widespread lack of awareness and skills on internet measurements, which creates a need for increasing research collaborations between groups that conduct measurements, and those that need measurement results for research and advocacy purposes.
There was consensus in the workshop on the need to build reciprocal relationships across disciplinary silos, as well as collaborative networks that include researchers and practitioners based in different regions, including in the global North and South. Continued research methods training, including in techniques such as text analysis, data mining, and network measurements, was reiterated. Capacity development to conduct research, advocacy and policy influencing on emerging issues such as biometrics processing and artificial intelligence was also cited.
“This workshop has helped us to appreciate more the gaps and challenges in digital rights research methods in our region. As researchers and practitioners, we need to keep abreast with the fast developments in the digital world. What are the new surveillance methods? How do AI and biometrics processing affect digital rights, and how do we robustly research these issues? The workshop brought together an incredible mix of stakeholders and illuminated ways for collaboration to conduct relevant and impactful research whose results can power advocacy and influence policy in multiple jurisdictions.”Dr Wairagala Wakabi, CIPESA Executive Director
Further, it was agreed that entities that have research skills start to offer support to others, in research design and implementation; and that they pursue joint research and be available to conduct peer review of others’ research. It was also proposed that digital rights researchers and practitioners should forge closer links with the private sector to produce credible analysis on policies and practices affecting tech use and digital rights.
By Loyce Kyogabirwe | Despite the existence of legal and regulatory frameworks that promote the right to information, access to public information remains a big challenge in Uganda. The potential of ICT to promote citizens’ access to information is widely acknowledged and in 2014, the government and civil society partners launched the Ask Your Government (AYG) web platform that allows citizens to make online information requests to government Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs). However, four years on, it is evident that most citizens might not be aware of their right to information let alone the procedures for accessing information and data that is held by public bodies. Meanwhile, public officials continue to ignore citizens’ information requests despite efforts to equip both the duty bearers and rights holders, including information officers, journalists as well as women’s rights organisations, with knowledge and skills on rights and responsibilities. User statistics from the AYG portal show an increase in the number of requests as well as number of public agencies registered on the portal. Between 2014 and 2016, only 243 requests were submitted to 76 agencies. But by June 2018, the number of information requests submitted had reached 2,450, to 106 MDAs (20 Ministries, 60 Departments and Agencies and 26 to Local Government Officials).
The highest number of information requests have been submitted to the Uganda Revenue Authority (URA) – 350 between June 2014 and June 2018, followed by the Ministry of Defence with 152. However, the nature of requests lodged still indicates a misinterpretation of what falls under a public information request as most of the submissions are related to internships andTax Identification Numbers (TIN). Perhaps this is an indication of the priority information needs of many of the portal’s users. Also of concern is the low response rate to information requests. Of the 2,450 requests submitted between June 2014 and June 2018, only 121 have been indicated as successful and and 102 as partially successful, representing an average response rate of 9%. Less than 1% of requests (20) were rejected while those still awaiting responses are 2,074 or 85%. The 85% can be regarded as refusals under section 18 of the Access to Information Act (ATIA), 2005 which states: “an information officer fails to give the decision on a request for access to the person concerned within the period contemplated under section 16, the information officer is, for the purposes of this Act, regarded as having refused the request.” The response period is 21 days. In some cases where public information was requested, users were advised to visit the respective MDAs in order to access such information. For example Davidson Ndyabahika, a journalist working with Uganda Radio Network, requested for statistics of enrolment and performance of both private and public primary and secondary schools in Ntungamo District from 2010 to 2016 from the Ministry of Education and Sports. He was advised to physically visit the Ministry offices where he would be cleared first before accessing such information. Such a response indicates challenges with digitised information storage and retrieval among public agencies although section 10 of the Act mandates information officers to ensure that records of a public body are accessible. Equally, there are cases where limitations of the portal have emerged and information has been withheld because it can only be provided after payment of the statutory search fees. The ATIA specifies a non-refundable access fee of Uganda Shillings (UGX) 20,000 (USD 5) which remains a high cost for the majority of the population. The limited levels of government responsiveness to information requests and uptake of AYG by both citizens and public officials impact upon initiatives working to promote access to public information for social accountability and civic engagement. This calls for more capacity enhancement, sensitisation and awareness raising among public officials of their duties and responsibilities as laid down in the Access to Information Act. Likewise, MDAs ought to utilise the different ICT platforms and tools to proactively release public information as prescribed in the Act and make efforts to ensure that citizens are aware of such information and where to find it. Under Section 7 of the Act, public bodies are mandated to compile manuals containing descriptions, addresses, the nature of work, services and how to access information within six months after the commencement of the Act. However, 13 years since the law was passed, only the Ministry of Lands and Urban Development has adhered to this requirement. Indeed the ministry was in 2015 awarded the most responsive public entity as part of commemoration of International Day for Universal Access to Information (IDUAI). Likewise, section 43 of the Act requires every minister to submit an annual report to Parliament on requests for records or access to information made to a public body under his or her ministry indicating acceptance or rejection, and reasons for rejection. However, there has never been any report from ministers since 2005 when the Law was passed, and Parliament has never demanded for such reports. Meanwhile there should be efforts to continuously empower citizens to fully exercise their right of access to information as stated in Article 41 of the Constitution and Section 5 of the ATIA. Such efforts include capacity building of different demographic groups such as women, youth, persons with disabilities (PWDs), journalists, and teachers to demand for public information relating to service delivery and accountability while utilising different ICT platforms and tools including the AYG portal. Public officials should also be empowered to utilise these tools to proactively share public information with citizens. The AYG is an initiative of the Ministry ICT and National Guidance in partnership with the Africa Freedom of Information Centre (AFIC) and the Collaboration on International ICT Policy for East and Southern Africa (CIPESA).