CIPESA Working On Advancing Digital Inclusion for Persons With Disabilities in Africa

By Staff Writer |

Persons with disabilities have unique needs and have for long been disadvantaged, yet the more some African countries get digitally connected, the deeper the digital divide for this community seems to grow. Despite growth in Information and Communications Technology (ICT) penetration, a large section of persons with disabilities faces digital exclusion due to lack of access and affordability of the requisite ICT tools and equipment, and failure by telecommunication operators to provide information and services in disability-friendly formats.

While millions turned to technology and traditional media for information in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, critical messages about the disease that are disseminated by health authorities, telecom companies, and broadcasters were and still are not reaching persons with visual and hearing impairments.

In turn, the digital exclusion of persons with disabilities worsened with the Covid-19 pandemic yet the Covid-19 crisis rendered technology key to working, learning, political participation and the enjoyment of other rights. Yet few organisations, within and outside the digital rights movement, are pushing for greater ICT accessibility.

These gaps in access to information gaps are growing despite the International Disability Alliance (IDA) issuing 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 Collaboration for International ICT Policy for East and Southern Africa (CIPESA), is working to raise the availability of information on ICT and disability in Africa by producing relevant evidence-based research; mainstreaming disability rights issues in conversations about technology access and digital rights; growing the capacity of diverse actors to research on and advocate for meaningful connectivity and digital accessibility, and engaging key actors such telecom companies and regional bodies.

What CIPESA is doing is quite powerful and empowering. The tool is excellent, it needs to be worked on as we’ve given our input in the meeting. Once that is done, reaching out and creating awareness about the tool will be more powerful, engaging such stakeholders such as government and other key stakeholders. Once it is out this is going to be a game-changer because for persons with disabilities, ICT makes the world go round … This has been one of the first meetings on ICT and disabilities, so it is an excellent move. – Erick Ngondi, United Disabled Persons of Kenya

Here are some of our blogs and in-depth research reports on technology and persons with disabilities in Africa.


  1. Why Access to Information on Covid-19 is Crucial to Persons with Disabilities in Africa
  2. Placing ICT Access for Persons with Disabilities at the Centre of Internet Rights Debate in Kenya
  3. CIPESA Submits Comments to Uganda Communications Commission on Improving Access to ICT for Persons With Disabilities
  4. Calling Out the African Union and Telecoms Associations to Prioritize ICT Access for Persons with Disabilities
  5. Vodacom Outshines MTN in Efforts to Serve Persons With Disabilities in South Africa
  6. People With Disabilities Left Out in ICT Jamboree
  7. Governments and Donors Urged to Advance ICT Access for Persons with Disabilities
  8. Telcos in Nigeria and Kenya Should Address Exclusion of Persons With Disabilities
  9. CIPESA Endorses GSMA Principles to Drive Digital Inclusion of Persons With Disabilities
  10. Fighting for plight of persons with disabilities

Research Reports

  1. Assessing the Barriers to Accessing ICT by People with Disability in Tanzania
  2. Assessing the Barriers to Accessing ICT by People with Disability in Uganda
  3. Assessing the Barriers to Accessing ICT by People with Disability in Kenya
  4. Removing Barriers to ICT Accessibility for Persons with Disabilities in  Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda which identified needed actions by government, regulators and communication companies.
  5. Access Denied: How Telecom Operators in Africa Are Failing Persons With Disabilities. CIPESA assessed 10 telecom companies in five countries (Botswana, Kenya, Nigeria, South Africa, and Uganda). Most of them – despite being long-established operators with a majority market share in their respective countries – were found to have failed to meet their obligations to provide information and services to persons with disabilities, in contravention of the companies’ obligations under national laws and the CRPD.

CIPESA made submission to the AUC, the ATU and EACO, drawing attention to these organisations’ obligation to protect and advance the rights of persons with disabilities in line with the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights; the CRPD; the Treaty to Facilitate Access to Published Works for Persons Who Are Blind, Visually Impaired or Otherwise Print Disabled (the Marrakesh Treaty); the SDGs; and the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in Africa.

See an in-depth document about our work here.

Watch this insightful discussion on “The Role of the Media in Promoting Digital Rights for  Persons With Disabilities in Africa.

CIPESA Endorses GSMA Principles to Drive Digital Inclusion of Persons With Disabilities

By CIPESA Writer |

Today, the GSMA, a group that represents the interests of mobile operators worldwide, has launched the ‘Principles for Driving the Digital Inclusion of Persons with Disabilities’, which aim to inspire the mobile industry to help close the mobile disability gap.

Announced on the International Day of Persons with Disabilities, December 3, 2020, the Principles set out a framework for action, as well as recommended activities to help address the barriers that currently prevent persons with disabilities from accessing and using mobile-enabled products and services. According to research conducted by the GSMA, many persons with disabilities are less likely to own smartphones and use mobile internet than persons without disabilities.

The Collaboration on International ICT Policy for East and Southern Africa (CIPESA) is honoured to have endorsed the principles at their launch. The mobile industry plays a critical role in our communities, hence it is of utmost importance that it takes definitive measures to promote inclusion and accessibility of its products and services. In Africa, most mobile operators still have work to do to ensure persons with disabilities are fully included.

“The Principles are practical and comprehensive, and will hopefully gain robust uptake by the industry. They offer civil society and other actors a clear and standardised tool by which to assess the industry’s performance on key inclusion benchmarks,” said CIPESA Executive Director Dr. Wairagala Wakabi.

World Health Organization figures show that around 15% of the world’s population  or one billion people worldwide live with a disability. Yet, only 1 in 10 people has access to the assistive technology they need to live independent lives. The GSMA notes that, by combining multiple assistive technologies in a single device, mobile phones can be cost effective tools to enable greater inclusion and participation for persons with disabilities.

The Principles call for action to address the barriers and requirements of persons with disabilities, drive innovation, place persons with disabilities at the heart of the design process and realise the social and commercial opportunity of reaching this underserved segment of the population. By doing so the mobile industry can make meaningful change and help ensure no one is left behind in an increasingly digital world.

“Removing the barriers faced by persons with disabilities requires informed action from all stakeholders,” said Mats Granryd, Director General of the GSMA. “It’s time for the mobile industry to take steps to ensure our products and services are accessible, unlocking the power of connectivity so that all people thrive. I’m delighted that Dialog Axiata PLC, Optus, Orange Group, Safaricom PLC, Telefónica Group, Vodacom South Africa, Zain Group and Turkcell have already signed up to our Principles, and I look forward to many more industry participants joining us in this commitment.”

The framework sets out three core principles for the mobile industry to advance the digital inclusion of persons with disabilities: i) Embrace disability inclusion at every level of their organisation; ii) Understand how to reach and better serve persons with disabilities; and iii) Deliver inclusive products and services that meet the varied needs of people with disabilities.

Embrace disability inclusion at every level of the organisation: To drive digital inclusion and reach persons with disabilities with mobile-enabled products and services, it is critical to focus on disability at an organisational level, to ensure disability inclusion is embedded across the organisation, supported by relevant policies and strategies, and spearheaded by senior leadership.

Understand how to reach and better serve persons with disabilities: Actions to drive the digital inclusion of persons with disabilities must be informed by an understanding of the local issues and local contexts, and ensuring persons with disabilities’ voices are heard: “nothing about us, without us”.

Deliver inclusive products and services that meet the diverse requirements of persons with disabilities: Action is required to address the barriers and requirements of persons with disabilities, drive innovation, place persons with disabilities at the heart of the design process and realise the social and commercial opportunity of reaching this underserved segment of the population.

Digital accessibility is recognised as a key priority in various global commitments, including the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD), the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) and the United Nations (UN) Disability Inclusion Strategy, which seek to ensure that no one is left behind in an increasingly digital world.

The Principles have been endorsed by the UK’s Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO), the Mobile & Wireless Forum’s (MWF) Global Accessibility Reporting Initiative (Gari), the Global Disability Innovation Hub, the International Disability Alliance (IDA), the International Labour Organization (ILO), Purple Space, CIPESA, and the Valuable 500.

You can learn more about the Principles here. CIPESA encourages mobile operators to sign up, and other actors to endorse the initiative and support the industry in striving to improve the digital inclusion of persons with disabilities.

Leveraging ICT to Promote the Right to Information in Uganda: Insights from Ask Your Government Portal

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).  

Use of the Ask Your Gov Uganda platform between 2013 and 2018

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 and Tax 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).