NAIROBI, Kenya, May 25 – With the advent of Information and Communications Technology (ICT), new hopes are emerging for Persons Living With Disabilities (PLWDs).
And despite the huge challenges, efforts are being undertaken to implement the use of ICT to counter obstacles related to disability.
In the just-concluded Global Accessibility Awareness Day (GAAD) Pan African Roundtable, the discussion on inclusive policies and innovation solutions for PWDs took center stage with calls for more investments to address the barriers to innovation on Assistive Technology (AT) so as to eliminate technological barriers that prevent PWDs from accessing services.
Present in the discussions was Facebook’s head of Accessibility Mike Shebanek, who stated that accessibility is key to achieving a cooperate mission and on achieving a true digital inclusion.
“Facebook serves nearly three billion people globally which is breathtaking in its impact. Within the Facebook community there are hundreds of millions of people who rely on assistive tools to experience the connections,” said Shebanek.
He said Facebook was actively engaged with disability communities for ways to improve the accessibility of its products.
“Our engagements with disability communities around the world informs how we advocate, represent and raise awareness of PLWDs and our work to promote economic opportunities in employment,” he added.
Information and communications technology and assistive technology offer new opportunities for everyone, but these opportunities are specifically more significant for PLWDs, who use assistive technology for their daily activities to a higher extent than people in general.
Today’s assistive technology, which is adapted to everyone’s abilities, means that disabled end users are able to participate in all aspects of social life on more equal terms than ever before.
“It is vital that people are able to benefit on an equal basis from the rapid development of ICT, to enable them to partake in an inclusive and barrier‐free information society,” stated Founder, Executive Director, inABLE Irene Mari-Kirika.
On average, around 10 per cent of the world population is disabled and this number is likely to increase in the near future due to various factors, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).
Eighty percent of persons with disabilities live in developing countries, according to the UN Development Program (UNDP).
Disability rates are significantly higher among groups with lower educational attainment. On average, 19 percent of less‐educated people have disabilities, compared to 11 per cent among the better‐educated.
The Kenya Bureau of Standards (KEBS), Standards Development and Trade, Chief Manager Lukorito Zacharia noted that they will work together with InABLE to come up with a roadmap on how to achieve the intentions outlined in the policies touching on digital accessibility by PLWDs.
The Persons with Disabilities Act, 2003 provides for the rights, rehabilitation, and equal opportunities for persons with disabilities. It establishes the National Council of Persons with Disabilities to oversee their welfare.
The Council is mandated under section 7 to provide, to the maximum extent possible, assistive devices, appliances and other equipment to persons with disabilities and access to available information and technical assistance to all institutions, associations and organizations concerned with the welfare and rehabilitation of persons with disabilities, including those controlled and managed by the Government.
PLWDs who took part in GAAD, also discussed technology for PLWD’s with a general consensus for students with disabilities, to share in the benefits of new technology, the use of technology for students in the field of education which has tremendous potential in alleviating particular problems associated with specific disabilities as well as making employment opportunities available for persons with an intellectual or physical disability, or visual or hearing impairment.
“While ICT can promote access to information by providing and transforming information into different formats, such as from visual to audio and vice versa, if the needs of persons with disabilities are not considered when developing content, they may not be able to access the content,” said Farida Bedwei, CEO, Byte The Bits, Ghana.
Magdy Shahir Abdel-Sayed- Ambassador, Helm Foundation, Egypt also brought up a few points for consideration noting that access to ICT including smartphones generally correlate with access to education.
“Persons with disabilities could benefit from the use of internet-enabled devices. Access to education and such devices could enable persons with disabilities to gain ICT skills and empower them to compete in the job market.” he said.
In Kenya, persons with disabilities continue to face numerous obstacles in gaining access to information, education, employment as well as other services despite the existence of laws and policies that promote and protect their rights. Data on the population of persons with disabilities in Kenya is varied.
Previous estimates indicated that 10% of Kenya’s population (4.44 million people) lived with some form of disability.
Mobility is the most common form of disability at 26%, followed by visual (19%) and auditory (12%); and most of the persons with disabilities (66%) live in rural areas.
However, the 2019 census data indicated that 2.2% (0.9 million people) aged five years and above lived with some form of disability, compared to the 3.8% found in the 2009 census.