Media Training on Disability and Digital Rights in Africa

Call for Applications |

In the lead up to the International Disability Day, on December 3, 2021, the Collaboration on International ICT Policy for East and Southern Africa (CIPESA) is inviting journalists from Kenya, Tanzania, and Uganda to apply for a two-day media training on Disability and Digital Rights in Africa. The virtual training will take place over two full days on December, 1-2, 2021.

Background

Although the East African region has experienced considerable growth in the use of Information and Communications Technologies (ICT), persons with disabilities in the region still face difficulties in accessing and using  these technologies and thus continue to miss out on the benefits that they bring. According to national census data, the percentage of persons with disabilities in Tanzania is 8% of the total population, 3.5% in Kenya, and 14% in Uganda.

A study on ICT Accessibility Barriers for Persons with Disabilities, found that while Kenya, Tanzania, and Uganda have 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.

Many of the obstacles and challenges faced by persons with disabilities in accessing information, education and employment can be mitigated through equitable access to ICT. To achieve this, several stakeholders, including the media, policy makers, regulators and ICT service providers must take decisive steps in terms of the development, production, cost and availability of certain requirements and equipment and creating an enabling environment for the promotion and respect of ICT accessibility rights for persons with disabilities. For media in particular, there is need for investigate and highlight digital exclusion challenges faced by persons with disabilities; provide a platform and voice for persons with disability; through their reporting, hold duty bearers accountable for any violations of digital rights of persons with disability; and offer their news and other programmes in accessible  formats, especially the broadcast and online platforms.

Purpose of the Workshop

The workshop will equip the participants with the requisite knowledge and skills  to effectively report about  the digital inclusion of persons with disabilities and contribute towards promoting digital accessibility through fair, accurate, and enterprise coverage  on persons with disabilities.

Topics to be covered will include:

  • Laws and Policies on Disability and ICT
  • Key ICT and Disability Rights Issues in East Africa
  • Disability and Technology – Facts and Myths
  • The Media and Digital Rights for Persons with Disability
  • Checklist for Media Coverage of ICT and Disability

CIPESA will cover participants’ internet connectivity costs.

If interested, please fill this application Form by  November 20, 2021

Successful applicants will be notified on November 26, 2021

Calling Out the African Union and Telecoms Associations to Prioritize ICT Access for Persons with Disabilities

By Edrine Wanyama |

The International Day of Persons with Disabilities (IDPD) has been observed every December 3 since 1992. The annual event aims to “promote the rights and well-being of persons with disabilities in all spheres of society and development, and to increase awareness of the situation of persons with disabilities in every aspect of political, social, economic and cultural life.”

The theme for 2020 was “Building back better: towards an inclusive, affordable, accessible and sustainable post COVID-19 world by, for and with persons with disabilities”. This is in line with the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which pledges to leave no one behind, and five of whose goals outline inclusion of persons with disabilities.

In the past year, the Collaboration on International ICT Policy for East and Southern Africa (CIPESA) has highlighted the need to remove barriers to ICT accessibility for persons with disabilities in Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda. Likewise, it has called for greater access to information for persons with disabilities, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic. Further, CIPESA has pointed out the need for telecommunications service providers, governments and donors to do more to promote ICT accessibility for persons with disabilities in Africa.

CIPESA is now shining the spotlight on the African Union Commission (AUC), the African Telecommunications Union (ATU) and the East African Communications Organisation (EACO) as critical regional bodies with  mandates to promote inclusive, affordable, accessible and sustainable information and communications technology (ICT) for persons with disabilities.

In separate  letters addressed to the  three organisations on International Day of Persons with Disabilities (IDPD), CIPESA acknowledges their critical roles, and that of their respective members, in promoting the rights of persons with disabilities in the digital sphere.

Specifically, the letters recall 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 United Nations’ Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and its Optional Protocol, 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 (the Protocol).

The Protocol is critical for the promotion and effective protection of the rights of persons with disabilities. However, it is yet to be ratified by any African Union (AU) Member State and only has nine signatoriesAngola, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Gabon, Mali, Rwanda, South Africa, and Togo.

The Protocol  calls upon AU Member States to take “effective and appropriate measures to facilitate full enjoyment by persons with disabilities of the right to access “information, communications, sign language and tactile interpretation services, braille, audio and other services, including electronic services and emergency services.” Further, the Protocol calls upon States to ensure that persons with disability have access to quality and affordable mobility aids and assistive devices or technologies.

Despite states’ obligations in regional instruments, the letters point to continued inequality in accessing assistive technologies such as screen readers, screen magnification software, text readers, and speech input software; and  digital inaccessibility of websites mobile applications and services. e.

In the advent of the Covid-19 pandemic, the digital exclusion of persons with disabilities has deepened, as many cannot access vital information on the pandemic, lack access to education and remote working opportunities, which increasingly require the use of ICT..

The recommendations made in the letters include the following:

  • Ratify the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in Africa as a matter of utmost priority, and promote awareness on its content and the rights it protects.
  • Provide incentives for innovation and investment in accessible ICT products and services, such as software solutions and accessible handsets and mobile devices.
  • Offer tax exemptions on handsets and mobile devices tailored to the needs of persons with disabilities.
  • Support the implementation of the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) Resolution 175 on Telecommunication/information and communication technology accessibility for persons with disabilities and persons with specific needs.
  • Ensure that information on COVID-19 is inclusive and provided in accessible and appropriate formats and languages.
  • Support the development, implementation and enforcement of relevant and enabling national policies and legislation on accessible communication products and services such as disability laws, Codes of Practice, consumer rights regulations, and ICT and disability policies.
  • Promote awareness on, and access of persons with disabilities to specialist devices and technologies such as manual Perkins Brailler, hand-held magnifiers, hand frames/slates and communication boards, screen readers, text-to-speech software and Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC).
  • Promote the participation of persons with disabilities in decision-making and policy development processes at national and regional levels.
  • Ensure the systematic collection, analysis, storage and dissemination of national statistics and data covering disability to increase the availability of high-quality, timely and reliable disaggregated data by disability, in order to facilitate the protection and promotion of the rights of persons with disabilities.
  • Promote multi-stakeholder cooperation between governments, the private sector, civil society and other relevant actors to incorporate diverse perspectives and promote the rights of persons with disabilities in accordance with the Protocol.

The detailed letters can be found here: African Union Commission (AUC) letter, the African Telecommunications Union (ATU) letter, and the East African Communications Organisation (EACO) letter.

International Day of Persons with Disabilities 2020

On this Day WHO joined partners to celebrate “a day for all”. This theme reflects a growing understanding that disability is part of the human condition. Almost everyone will be temporarily or permanently impaired at some point in life. Despite this, few countries have adequate mechanisms in place to respond fully to the needs of people with disabilities.
You can click here to access the event page content.

Report Launch: How Telecom Operators in Africa Are Failing Persons With Disabilities

#FIFAfrica20 |

Today, the Collaboration on International ICT Policy for East and Southern Africa (CIPESA) has released a new report which shows that several telecom companies in Sub-Saharan Africa have failed to meet their obligations to provide information and services to persons with disabilities. The report assessed 10 telecom companies in five countries: Botswana, Kenya, Nigeria, South Africa, and Uganda and was based on guidelines from the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) Model Accessibility Policy 2014, the  World Wide Web Consortium’s Web and Mobile Content Accessibility Guidelines, and the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD).

Most of the companies assessed – despite being long-established operators with the majority market share in their respective countries – failed to prioritise the needs of telecom customers with disabilities in contravention of the companies’ obligations under national laws and the CRPD.

Safaricom in Kenya and Vodacom South Africa were found to be leading in improving accessibility of communication products and services for persons with disabilities. The good performance by Safaricom and Vodacom in comparison to other companies reviewed appears to be driven by the policies and culture of the Vodafone group to which both belong and not by regulations or regulators in Kenya and South Africa.

MTN’s operations in Nigeria, South Africa, and Uganda, as well as Airtel’s operations in Nigeria and Uganda seemed to give low consideration to accessibility of their services by persons with disabilities. This was evidenced by the consistent non-compliance with the accessibility indicators covered in the study across the countries where MTN and Airtel operated.

The report was launched at the Forum of Internet Freedom in Africa 2020 (FIFAfrica20) as part of commemorations of the International Day for Universal Access to Information (September 28). The findings  featured in panel discussions on how Covid-19 has accelerated the digital exclusion of persons with disabilities, which is undermining a key pillar of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) – the pledge to leave no one behind.

Given the critical role the telecom industry plays in providing information and communication services, it is of utmost importance that it takes deliberate measures to promote accessibility of its products and services. The industry also needs to create awareness of accessible mobile communications among persons with disabilities, their caregivers, and organisations of persons with disabilities (DPOs).

Recommendations

  1. Telecom operators need to address concerns of persons with disabilities regarding their services and products, including through provision of information 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 their staff, including in basic sign language.
  2. Government agencies such as communication regulators and consumer protection units should enforce legislation on accessible communication products and services. More vigilance is needed in enforcing implementation of national disability laws, Codes of Practice, consumer rights regulations, and ICT and disability policies.
  3. Safaricom and Vodacom South Africa provide learning examples for other operators on proactively improving digital accessibility and building partnerships that improve service provision to persons with disabilities. Regulators also need to learn from these examples to offer guidance to operators in their jurisdictions.
  4. Telecom companies should form partnerships with academia, civil society, DPOs, tech developers and innovators and device manufacturers to develop accessible mobile communication solutions.
  5. Governments should offer incentives for investment and innovation in accessible mobile devices and software solutions to encourage the development and availability of such technologies and solutions. Examples of such incentives are tax exemption on handsets/mobile devices tailored to the needs of persons with disabilities.

The full report can be found here.

Promoting Accessible ICT in Uganda

By Ashnah Kalemera |
The challenges faced by persons with disabilities (PWDs) in accessing information online and financial services since Uganda introduced taxes on social media access and mobile money transactions came to light last August. These taxes added to the catalogue of barriers to promoting access to Information and Communications Technology (ICT) for disabled persons in the country.
Indeed, national statistics for internet and telephone penetration (49% and 69% respectively), are not disaggregated by disability which in itself could be telling of the state of digital accessibility for PWDs in Uganda. General barriers to ICT use in Uganda include high costs of accessing and owning ICT; a shortage of usage skills which is linked to low adult literacy rates; poor electricity and telephone network coverage in rural and underserved areas.
Furthermore, uptake of ICT for PWDs is hampered by the high cost of assistive technology; low levels of ICT and disabilities literacy among policy makers, academia, civil society and other stakeholders; non-implementation of policies related to ICT access for PWDs; and unavailability of relevant software in local languages. See draft ICT for Disability Policy (2017).
As a party to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Persons with Disabilities (CRPD), the government of Uganda has been working to ensure equal opportunities and inclusion of persons with disabilities.

Article 9 of the CRPD calls on state parties to take appropriate measures to ensure accessibility of ICT to persons with disability. The CRPD also calls on member states to ensure that private sector service providers, including through the internet, provide information and services in accessible and usable formats for persons with disabilities.

Following the drafting of the ICT Policy for Disability last year, the Ministry of ICT and National Guidance has also drafted Accessible Publishing Guidelines and an Accessible ICT Procurement Policy. The publishing guidelines are aimed at ensuring that government communications, documents and publications (print or electronic) are universally accessible at the same time and no extra cost to PWDs. They build on the Guidelines for Development and Management of Government Websites which set out requirements for accessibility for audio, visual and speech impaired users.
For its part, the proposed procurement policy requires all government Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) to ensure that PWDs have access to all government electronic facilities, resources and services by incorporating accessibility requirements in procurement of goods and services.
Speaking at an awareness-raising workshop on the proposed policies on October 11, 2018, Silas Ngabirano, the Assistant Commissioner for Information Management Services at the ICT ministry, stated that the policies had undergone participatory consultations, with input from MDAs, local government authorities, the private sector, civil society organisations, development partners and the media.
The proposed implementation plans for the policies include establishment of a national accessibility centre, set up of ICT and disability focal points at each MDA, monitoring of government ICT services for accessibility, and support to private sector initiatives working on accessible ICT products and services.
It remains unclear when the various policies are expected to be finalised. However, according to ICT Ministry, implementation of certain aspects of the proposed policies was already underway. For instance, all education institutions are currently required to have computer terminals accessible for students with disabilities. However, as highlighted by a lecturer participant from Makerere University, infrastructure at the university and many other institutions remained under-equipped for PWDs while course assessment procedures hardly took into account the needs of students with disabilities.
Meanwhile, the Uganda Communications Commission is working to enforce compliance with ICT licensing requirements and regulations with regards to sign language interpretation and subtitles by television broadcasters. In a notice issued on October 19, 2018, UCC states that effective January 1, 2019, it “shall not renew” licenses of any television operators not compliant with the provisions of the Persons with Disabilities Act, 2006. Section 21(2)(a) of the Act states that “Any person who owns a television station shall provide sign language inset or subtitles in at least one major news cast program each day and in all special programs of national significance.”
Further, in partnership with United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO), the Uganda government is working to develop an information portal, which once finalised, will track implementation of policies on assistive technologies and provide information and experiences of ongoing accessibility initiatives in the country. Previously, UNESCO has helped to conduct a training for Uganda government officials on web accessibility for PWDs.
At the sensitisation workshop, stakeholders acknowledged that implementation of the proposed policies and existing legal and regulatory frameworks is hindered by inadequate data on PWDs for effective planning. Resource requirements for provision of assistive devices, large print or magnifiers, materials in braille and video captioning, were also cited as a challenge.