DISABILITY is not INABILITY: Women,ICTs and Disability in Northern Uganda

“I am not good at videography especially editing but I believe you will all get the message clearly.”
The convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPF) was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly on 13 December 2006. A major milestone for all persons living with disabilities around the world, it is the 8th Universal Convention on Human Rights of  which majority of International Telecommunication Union (ITU) member States are signatories to the convention.
Article 9 of the CRPD defines ICT accessibility as an integral part of accessibility rights on par with transportation and physical environment for PWDs. There are indeed so many challenges for PWDs to realize their fundamental Human Right of access to information especially in the developing countries
These challenges include but are not limited to;
  • · Low education levels of  PWDs especially in the developing countries,
  • Absence of assistive technologies to help even the educated PWDs,
  • The absence of clear intervention strategies by governments, local disability leadership and other    stakeholders to save the situation,
  • The fact that majority PWDs live in the most rural parts of Africa and therefore can’t be covered by the available ICTs.
And although the Mobile telephone technology is greatly improving accessibility to information in Africa, its applicability for use by people with disabilities is still highly wanting. There are barriers to accessibility mainly because of the different designs of  ICT tools used by people in the mainstream which are not adaptable for use by the PWDs.
In one of the resent trainings for PWDs in Gulu which was organized by Women of Uganda Network with an aim to increase civil society organisations’ use of  and interaction with various forms of media especially PWDs who since time immemorial have been left out of ICT related programs and projects, I was privileged to facilitate a number of session on how ICTs can be used by and for PWDs. The training took place at Gulu Union of Persons with Disability on December 2010 and it was specifically offered to Gulu Landmine Survivors, A local Women’s group in Gulu. The level of enthusiasm and zeal portrayed by the woman was overwhelming. They were eager to learn, listen, implement and share. They wanted to share their stories with the entire world and be heard.
I was drawn to two particular participants, Ms. Adong Lucy a blind Woman and Ms. Jenifer Arach a deaf and dumb Youth. For Lucy, being disabled was not the issue, her issues was about the unfriendliness of ICT tools towards the PWDs especially the blind. She cited an example of airtime cards which are very user unfriendly to the blind. She said that Telecommunication Companies should be sensitive to the PWDs and produce airtime cards with the digits written in braille. In this way, even a blind person would be in position to load credit to their phone without being manipulated. In this video, Lucy shared with me why ICTs have to be user friendly to PWDs.

Jenifer Arach a youth from Gulu on the other hand said that despite the fact that she is a school dropout dumb and deaf, she is very interested in learning especially typing. She said that she wants to own a phone to ease her communication (Mainly SMS) and to increase on her networking opportunities. She shared her story with me.

Why the need to improve web/ICT accessibility for PWDs
Since time immemorial, PWDs all over the word are faced with the problem of exclusion and Isolation. This has contributed to their low levels of education therefore exclusion from majority of social services. During this training, it was noted that there is need to improve ICT accessibility for PWDs and this could be done through the following suggested ways:
·   Easy access to the web which can be used for news, information, commerce & entertainment among others though aiding devices like the Braile for the blind and speech software.
·       Adopting new technologies like real time captioning which is very relevant for the deaf.
·        Using other assistive technologies like mobile phones which are speech and visual aided. 
Proposals and plans of actions Identified at an ITU/UCC workshop held in 2010 in Kampala to address these challenges;
a) As a means of inclusion of persons with disabilities in the development of infrastructure; it was proposed that a universal access fund for Infrastructure especially geared to underprivileged areas, and disadvantaged groups including women, youth and persons with disabilities be established;
b) Governments in partnership with civil society should  increase opportunities for training of women and persons with disabilities through education, training and human resource development taking into account special consideration of underprivileged areas;
c) As part of policy development process, the participation of women and other disadvantaged groups should be facilitated and encouraged in the ICT policy development and implementation process.
  • Adieku Raphael

    My only hope is that the proposals being raised are implemented otherwise, it will all stay in paper and you will never see any action if any it will only be to the advantaged other than the disadvantaged as usual.

  • A very insightful post Maureen. What struck me as an urgent need is to have access to these technologies for the disabled communities. Access at home or the local school, church, recreation centre and especially libraries.

    Have you thought about getting in touch with IBM and Microsoft as they their research labs have projects that specifically address the needs of the disabled community with reference to web accessibility and mobile telephony.

    Also, a lot of mobile phones in the market have specific features suitable for the disabled community but are expensive. Perhaps you could get the manufacturer to sell the devices at a discounted rate.

  • Thanks Raphael for the comment. That's what we all hope for. I have noticed that here in Canada, everything is disability friendly. The public transport, the libraries, the classrooms….name them… They even have trained dogs to help the blind people. It's just unfortunate that the proposal is generalized so the developed countries benefit more at the expense of the developing countries.

    Thank you so Much Nilofar for the compliment about my post. The need has always been urgent but no body seems to care. You heard Ms.Lucy request for just 5 braille books per sub-county(about 5-10 sq miles).PWDs luck even the very basics to make their lives easy

    Any idea of how I can get in touch with IBM & Microsoft or any phone manufacturers? Could do the advocacy to them.
    Cheers ans Much love.