International Day of Persons With Disabilities (IDPWD) 2022

The theme this year is “Transformative solutions for inclusive development: the role of innovation in fuelling an accessible and equitable world“.

The annual observance of the International Day of Persons with Disabilities (IDPD) on 3 December was proclaimed in 1992 by the United Nations General Assembly resolution 47/3. The observance of the Day aims to promote an understanding of disability issues and mobilize support for the dignity, rights and well-being of persons with disabilities.

The 2022 global observance to commemorate the International Day of Persons with Disabilities will be around the overarching theme of innovation and transformative solutions for inclusive development, covering in three different interactive dialogues the following thematic topics:

Click here for more information on the event.

Policy Brief: Taxing Ugandan Citizens Out Of The Digital Society

By Edrine Wanyama |

Uganda’s Information and Communications Technology (ICT) sector contributes 9% of the country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and could contribute to the country’s socio-economic transformation through innovation and food security, access to markets such as for agricultural produce, and improved service delivery. However, a new Policy Brief by CIPESA shows that universal, affordable access remains largely unattained due to the high and multiple taxes on digital products and services.

According to the GSMA’s Mobile Connectivity Index, which measures key enablers of mobile internet adoption such as infrastructure, affordability, content and services, Uganda lags behind its neighbours Kenya, Rwanda and Tanzania. 

According to the Uganda Communications Commission (UCC), by September 2021, the country had 29.1 million telephone subscriptions that translate into a national penetration of seven connections for every 10 Ugandans. However, the proportion of Ugandans who actually own or use mobile phones is less than 70% due to multiple SIM card ownership. Internet subscriptions stood at 22 million, or a penetration of 52%, yet the percentage of the population that actually uses the internet is much lower, as many users have multiple subscriptions.

Internet and mobile telephone penetration are still low in Uganda in comparison to  Kenya with 122% internet penetration and 133% mobile penetration, Rwanda with 64.4% internet penetration and 84.2% mobile penetration, and Tanzania with 50% internet penetration and 91% mobile penetration. The average phone subscriber in Uganda spends just UGX 10,500 (about USD 2.8) per month on voice, data and SMS services. This average revenue per user (ARPU) in Uganda is significantly lower than in other African countries.

Uganda levies  a direct 12% levy on the net price of internet data, after which a Value Added Tax (VAT) of 18% applies. There is also a 12% excise duty on prepaid airtime, postpaid airtime, and value added services, as well as a 10% import duty on devices. This multiple taxation translates into high cost of services, devices, hardware and software, with suppliers and service providers passing on the financial burden onto consumers, thereby aggravating the affordability challenge. 

With one of highest mobile data rates in the region, with 1 GB of data costing up to 16.2% of an average Ugandan’s monthly income, digital exclusion has been perpetuated with the groups most excluded from the digital economy being the elderly, rural communities, persons with disabilities , the youth, refugees  and migrants. Indeed,  research has found that Ugandan men are 43% more likely to be online than women. 

Meanwhile, according to the Brief, innovation and e-commerce continue to suffer regression with initiatives such as the National ICT Initiatives Support Programme (NIISP) and Digital Uganda Vision achieving minimal impact. This is because poor internet access hinders knowledge creation and stifles innovation in a world where fintechs, mobile payments and a growing array of e-services and e-trade are getting mainstreamed. Similarly, freedom of expression and access to information continue to be undermined despite consistent calls upon the government by the private sector to government to refrain from blocking access to the internet and some social media sites such as Facebook, a practice that undermines citizens’ access to information and freedom of expression, and which also cripples business operations.

The high and multiple digital taxation in Uganda has greatly undermined the ICT sector’s potential as a driver of socio-economic transformation and perpetuates exclusion. It also means that e-governance, e-services and e-commerce cannot achieve full scale, citizens’ access to information and public participation is undermined, and the innovation ecosystem remains frail.

The Brief  calls upon  the government, civil society and the technology sector to take the following measures for progressive reform in the sector. 


  • Repeal all retrogressive legislation such as the Excise Duty (Amendment) Act of 2021 which provides for a 12% levy on the net price of internet data.
  • Lower the Value Added Tax on ICT services from the current 18% to not more than 12%, and reduce by 50% the import duty on ICT devices as well as the excise duty on airtime and value added services.
  • Undertake measures, such as tax incentives, to lower the cost of assistive technologies like screen readers, text-to-speech software, manual Perkins Brailler, hand-held magnifiers, hand frames/slates and communication boards for persons with disabilities.
  • Refrain from implementing measures that disrupt access to the internet and social media, and if any such measures are taken, they should be absolutely necessary, proportionate and for a very limited period of time.
  • Deliberately undertake measures to expand access and usage of ICT by disadvantaged groups, such as through leveraging the universal service fund (RCDF) to fund connectivity and services, as well as digital literacy programmes for rural dwellers, poor women, and persons with disabilities.

Civil Society

  • Advocate for affordable and inclusive access including through awareness campaigns and building the capacity of grassroots communities to push back against digital exclusion.
  • Engage in public policy consultations and challenge laws such as the Excise Duty (Amendment) Act of 2021 and others that impose an undue tax burden on digital services and devices.
  • Collaborate with government and technology actors in efforts to promote digital literacy and infrastructure sharing among others.
  • Research and document barriers to digital inclusion to form the basis for advocacy and engagement including through human rights review mechanisms 

Technology Sector

  • Comply with universal service obligations through infrastructure sharing and provision of accessible services/subsidies for marginalised communities.
  • Collaborate with civil society in efforts to promote digital literacy and innovation.
  • Engage in public policy consultations and challenge laws such as the Excise Duty (Amendment) Act of 2021 and others that impose an undue tax burden on digital services and devices.

Read the full Brief here

Telcos in Nigeria and Kenya Should Address Exclusion of Persons With Disabilities

By CIPESA Writer |
In January 2019, after nine years in the making, Nigeria signed into law the Discrimination Against Persons with Disabilities (Prohibition) Act, 2018. In Kenya, a similar framework had been signed into law in 2003. Both laws were aimed at promoting a more inclusive society for persons with disabilities.
Sections 24 and 25 of the Discrimination Against Persons with Disabilities (Prohibition) Act 2018 require the government to ensure that persons with disabilities are given special considerations, including provision of special communication emergencies.
On the other hand, Kenya’s constitution outlaws’ discrimination on the grounds of disability, under article 27(4). Under article 54, it emphasizes that a person with a disability shall be entitled to treatment with respect and dignity, access to educational institutions and facilities, reasonable access to all places, public transport and information, and access materials and devices including for communications. Additionally, Kenya’s National ICT Policy of 2016 outlines, under article 13, strategies for “an accessible ICT environment in the country in order to enable persons with disabilities to take full advantage of ICTs.”
However, despite these constitutional and other legal provisions, telecom operators in the two countries have largely failed to address the digital communication needs of persons with disabilities.
At least 7% of Nigeria’s (25 million people) and 3.5% of Kenya’s population (1.3 million people) are recognized by countries’ national census as persons with disabilities. Yet major operators – with the exception of Safaricom in Kenya – have failed to make their services accessible to a large section of this customer segment.
Section 15(1) of the Consumer Code of Practice Regulations 2007 issued by the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) requires telcos to ensure that the interests of consumers with disabilities are fully taken into account in developing and providing their services. However, leading telcos MTN Nigeria and Airtel Nigeria, which jointly have a 75% share of the telecom market share, have done little to fulfil this requirement.
In both countries, whereas the outlets of the telecom companies assessed were physically accessible to persons with disabilities, there was a stark lack of training for sales and customer services staff in serving persons with disabilities. In total, ten companies in five countries were assessed, including Safaricom and Wananchi Telecom (Kenya), Airtel Nigeria and MTN Nigeria, along with others in Botswana, South Africa, and Uganda. The assessment was guided by a tool that drew assessment criteria from the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) Model Accessibility Policy 2014, the Web and Mobile Content Accessibility Guidelines developed by the World Wide Web Consortium, and the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD).
The telecom companies were assessed on various facets of promoting digital accessibility, such as availability of accessible handsets and other mobile devices embedded with accessibility features; physical accessibility of sales and customer service outlets of the telecom operators; and whether the operators trained their staff to serve customers with disabilities.
In Nigeria, despite its high population of persons with disabilities, the Joint National Association of Persons Living with Disabilities (JONAPWD) reported that there were barely any accessible and affordable devices offered for sale by telecom companies. Equally, the telecom companies had not made any efforts to offer accessible services.
In contrast, Safaricom in Kenya had put considerable effort in sensitivity training and upskilling its staff in the provision of services to persons with disabilities. Further, it created a database of its customers with visual impairment and once they call its customer service numbers, they are connected to customer care agents trained to cater to them.
In December 2017, Safaricom introduced the Interactive Voice Response (IVR) that enabled visually impaired customers to manage their M-Pesa transactions; and in November 2018, it launched the DOT Braille Watch, which displayed SMS notifications in braille, enabling the visually impaired to use M-Pesa services without having to seek assistance from third parties. Safaricom had also committed to employing more persons with disabilities and as of April 2019, it reported that 2.1% of its employees were persons with disabilities (up from 1.7% in 2018), with ambitions of reaching 5% in coming years.
Given the potential of Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) to make significant improvements in the lives of persons with disabilities, telecom operators need to address their concerns regarding the operators’ services and products. They should provide public information or communication in accessible formats such as Braille, large print, visual and audio formats; understand the numbers and needs of their customers with disabilities so that they build focused products and services to suit these customers; ramp up sensitivity training for staff, including in basic sign language; and improve availability for sale of affordable mobile telecommunication devices with accessible features.
Further, telecom companies should form partnerships with academia, civil society, disability rights organisations, tech developers and innovators as well as device manufacturers to develop accessible mobile communication solutions. Finally, operators in Kenya, Nigeria and elsewhere in Africa should look to Safaricom and Vodacom South Africa for learning examples on how to proactively and consistently work to improve digital accessibility and build partnerships that improve service provision to persons with disabilities.
See the full report here.

Investigation Finds More than 700,000 Barriers Limiting Website Accessibility in Mozambique

By Staff Writer |

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 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, “ 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.

Vodacom Outshines MTN in Efforts to Serve Persons With Disabilities in South Africa

By CIPESA Writer |

South Africa has a national disability prevalence rate of about 7.5%, which represents approximately 2.87 million persons with disability. According to the Marginalised Groups Indicator Report of 2018, the bulk of this population resides in Gauteng province and the least in the Northern Cape, with the most affected age groups being 5-14 and 15-24 years. Women have a higher chance of being disabled than men and are more likely to receive less schooling. 

While households of persons with disabilities have a 90% likelihood of having access to electricity, their access to technological devices is far lower, in major part due to failure by telecom operators to provide accessible services and devices to this often marginalised population.

See this report: Access Denied: How Telecom Operators in Africa are Failing Persons With Disabilities 

The telecommunication industry plays a critical role in providing information and communication services to the public. However, many telecom operators are failing to provide accessible information and services to large sections of persons with disabilities.

A study conducted among 10 telecom companies in five African countries sought to understand this digital access and service gap within the telecom industry in promoting digital accessibility for persons with disabilities, in particular visual and auditory disabilities. In South Africa, the main market share holders, MTN (28%) and Vodacom (42%), were the focus of the study. The study found that both operators offered affordable accessible handsets, but such handsets were not available in all outlets. 

This inconsistent product availability was accompanied by limited staff knowledge of any special offerings for persons with disabilities (such as call, SMS, data or discounted rates) and low skills in serving members of this community. Moreover, neither Vodacom nor MTN availed information about their services in Braille. 

However, Vodacom had an upper hand over MTN in creating awareness about accessibility products and services (including through alliances with the South African Audiology Association and South African Speech, Language and Hearing Association) and in developing accessibility applications.  

Vodacom also supported the development of HearZA app, a smartphone-based national hearing test app, developed in partnership with the University of Pretoria to help with early detection of hearing problems. In addition, in April 2018 Vodacom launched the free (082 112) SMS Emergency Service for hearing and speech impaired customers, which enabled registered customers to request emergency services such as police, ambulance, fire, and sea rescue by sending an SMS to the Emergency Service Contact Centre. The research shows that MTN had no tailor-made applications for persons with disabilities.

Earlier in 2016, Vodacom partnered with the South African National Council for the Blind (SANCB) to provide an easier and more accessible avenue to bring mobile communication closer to the visually impaired by installing a mobile service kiosk at SANCB’s premises in Pretoria. The aim of this partnership was to provide training and to empower the SANCB staff on how to use accessible smartphones and to train their members.

Further, Vodacom has been offering Apple and Android smart devices that come with built-in text-to-speech applications (Apple – VoiceOver and Android – TalkBack) that convert text to audio, allowing visually impaired customers to listen to information such as SMS. In-store activation, an assisted step-by-step guide, and training on using the accessibility features, are additional services the company could offer. 

Integrating the needs of persons with disabilities at company policy level is also indicative of its commitment to inclusion. According to the research, Vodacom had a guiding procurement policy as part of the group’s inclusion strategy to promote accessibility, while MTN had a wide business-focused procurement policy with no specific information on devices for persons with disabilities.

Across the 10 telecom companies assessed, only Vodacom had discounted rates for persons with disabilities, and for hearing-impaired customers, special contract phone deals that consisted of data and SMS were provided. Vodacom was also the only operator in the study that had emergency communications designed specifically for persons with disabilities. 

A Code of Conduct for Persons with Disabilities Regulations was issued by the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (ICASA) in 2007 and a review was undertaken in  2019, with inputs and commitments of support to the review effort from operators Cell-C, MTN, and Vodacom. Proposals received during the review included to revise the code of conduct to include subtitling for all TV programmes; large print and braille billing statements to be issued by operators; a need for universal design of handsets at affordable prices; cheaper hearing aids to be made available; airtime vouchers to be printed in braille; and Jaws (a screen reading software) to be installed in smartphones.

For persons with disabilities to realise technology’s transformative potential, their rights must be provided for in national laws and policies, and countries must take deliberate steps to ensure that they have unfettered access to quality information and ICT, and are protected from all forms of discrimination. South Africa’s telecom operators need to follow Vodacom’s examples to proactively support the needs of persons with disabilities, in line with the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) pledge to leave no one behind

See more about how South Africa’s telecom operators compare to those in other countries in the provision of services and devices to persons with disabilities.