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The Access Line
Report from Uganda: East African Regulators Take a Strong Stance in Support of ICT Accessibility Policies and Programs
Report from East Africa:
1 - Blog
3 - Workshop agenda
Kampala, Uganda - 7 May 2010, by Axel Leblois, G3ict
At the invitation of the Uganda Communications Commission and in cooperation with the International Telecommunication Union, the executive teams of the regulatory authorities of Kenya, Tanzania, Burundi, Rwanda and Uganda members of the East African Communications Organizations (EACO) participated with G3ict to a workshop on ICT Accessibility for Persons with Disabilities on May 6. The workshop was also attended by Ugandan Operators and Disabled Persons Organizations which made it possible to initiate a constructive multi-stakeholder dialogue on how to promote ICT accessibility in the context of East Africa.
The G3ict-ITU e-Accessibility Toolkit for Policy Makers was introduced by Ms. Asenath Mpatwa, Senior Advisor for the ITU Regional Office for Africa, who initiated the Toolkit project with G3ict in 2008. The Toolkit which is now available on-line at www.e-accessibilitytoolkit.org was used extensively throughout the agenda as a reference for all stakeholders involved. A key milestone was achieved by the workshop with the declaration adopted unanimously by all regulators and associated stakeholders on Friday May 7th committing to promote policies and programs in support of ICT accessibility.
In his introductory remarks, Mr. Patrick Mwesigwa, Executive Director of the Uganda Communications Commission, reminded the audience that one of the Commission's key objectives is to "Promote and ensure nationwide penetration and equitable distribution of communications services, with specific emphasis on universal access". Issues related to accessibility of communications services for persons with disabilities are therefore of paramount importance to the UCC, a view shared by all East African regulators present.
The workshop agenda opened with a presentation by Axel Leblois, Executive Director of G3ict of the implications of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities for information and communications technologies and services - and specific areas of opportunities for vendors, service providers, users and regulators. The agenda then covered the latest advances in assistive technologies presented by Claudio Giugliemma, president of the Dominic Foundation, the role and history of standards," Total Conversation" relay and real time captioning, presented by Andrea Sachs, Convener of ITU's JCA-AHF, web accessibility, by Shadi Abou-Zahra and specific areas of opportunity for mobile telephony, TV broadcasting, e-government web sites and the promotion of assistive technologies in Education, presented by Axel Leblois.
In addition to establishing a dialogue with regulatory authorities and operators, G3ict had an opportunity to visit sites and exchange information with local disabled person's organizations. Among those, the NUDIPU - National Association of Persons with Disabilities, ADD - Action on Disability and Development, UNAB - Uganda National Association of the Blind, the Kampala School for Physically Handicapped and the USD - Uganda School for the Deaf.
According to ADD, 19.5% of Uganda's population lives with disabilities, as determined by its 2008 national census, a percentage, consistent with South Africa's statistics and likely to reflect those of most sub-Sahara African countries. Disability policies and programs are therefore high on the Uganda national agenda. Nationwide, 32 disability related organizations represent a wide variety of disabled persons or are involved in special education or rehabilitation services. However, general economic circumstances are difficult and affect the availability of basic services and of general accessibility features for persons with disabilities, both for the physical environment and transportation. Those issues are particularly acute for the rural population which includes the vast majority of disabled persons in Uganda and neighboring countries.
Special education schools, public or private, which we visited, such as the Kampala School for Physically Handicapped and the USD - Uganda School for the Deaf, are run by very well trained and competent staff and faculty. However, they generally struggle to fund the acquisition of ICT equipment - including computers and related assistive technologies - due to lack of funding. Yet, while discussing with headmasters and faculty, it was abundantly clear that the desire to embrace new technologies was very strong and its potential benefits clearly identified. The Uganda National Association of the Blind does in fact operate a computer training center utilizing screen reader technology (Jaws) and serving blind persons. The head of the center discussed with G3ict some of the most desirable technologies including mobile phones accessibility features such as text to speech typically out of reach for most disabled persons due to lack of availability of specific handsets and/or their cost. Meanwhile, the Uganda National Association of the Deaf (UNAD) mentioned to G3ict the lack of accessibility of TV broadcasting: after a law was passed making it compulsory for broadcasters to offer sign language and captioning on news programs in particular, implementation followed but then faded away. As a result, the UNAD has started legal action to obtain the full implementation of the law.
Leapfrogging with ICT accessibility policies and programs
Meanwhile, as in many African countries, the ICT sector is booming, led by the proliferation of mobile phones, Internet Cafés and computer community centers. E-services as a result are on the rise: the Ugandan Government for example is advertising on the streets of Kampala the ability for citizens to file tax returns on-line, indicating that e-government applications are expanding as connectivity improves around the country.
Despite the many priorities related to challenging economic conditions and limited services available to persons with disabilities in Uganda, all disabled persons organizations present at the workshop agreed that addressing ICT accessibility issues at an early stage, while ICT infrastructure, applications and services are on the rise, is a timely initiative. Better to lay the foundations of an accessible ICT environment now than having to retrofit it later! As an immediate follow-up to the workshop, the constitution of an ICT accessibility Task Force was suggested by participants so that Ugandan disabled person's organizations may proactively participate to the development of new national multi-stakeholders initiatives to develop ICT accessibility in Uganda.
ICT ACCESSIBILITY WORKSHOP FOR PERSONS WITH DISABILITIES
Kampala, Uganda 6 May, 2010
Kampala Declaration on ICT Accessibility for Persons with Disabilities
Participants to the Workshop on ICT Accessibility for Persons with Disabilities for EACO member countries
An ICT Accessibility Workshop on Persons with Disabilities took place in Kampala, Uganda on May 6, 2010. The event was attended by 120 participants consisting of EACO members and representatives of Disabled persons Associations in Uganda in the five East African countries of Kenya, Uganda Burundi, Burkina, Rwanda and Tanzania.
International and non-governmental organizations included G3ict from USA, the World Wide Web/Web Accessibility Initiative (W3C/WAI), Dominic Foundation, Switzerland as well as ITU-T and ITU-D. Six presentations were made and one panel discussion which focused on:
o Highlighting key policy issues in accessible ICTs including assistive technologies for persons with disabilities
Highlight the implications of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, adopted in 2006, and the responsibilities of the signatory countries, United Nations specialized agencies and other concerned parties
o Reviewing available tools such as the ITU/G3ict toolkit, resources and technologies promoting accessible ICTs
o Highlighting areas where government could promote ICT accessibility and draw up priority actions needed to address the subject
o Sharing experiences and best practices from various countries including resources for more information.
o Roles of governmental entities, non-governmental organizations, research centres, universities, civil society and the private sector in promoting ICT accessibility;
Affirming their belief that:
- Most countries in East Africa have no clear, specific statistics on the number of persons with disabilities, the types of their special needs and causes of such needs;
- Absence of periodic (annual) reviews or surveys to update statistics on persons with disabilities and types of their special needs in the countries of the region;
- The United Nations and other international and sub-regional/ regional organizations have no accurate statistics on persons with disabilities or data on the types of their special needs;
- Persons with disabilities in the five countries have limited access to information and communication technology, while those with such limited access are mainly located in urban areas. Moreover, the countries lack telecommunication/ICT policies and regulations addressing UCT accessibility for person with disabilities;
- The number of persons with disabilities is increasing due to the aging process, civil strife, environmental pollution, and consanguinity leading to pathogenic hereditary characteristics, diseases, accidents and disasters.
- The percentage of persons with disabilities in East Africa ranges between 10% and 12% of the total population, and the percentage of relatives and acquaintances adversely affected by such disabilities represents about 10% of the total population;
- The significant outstanding efforts exerted by nongovernmental organizations and civil society to resolve problems of persons with disabilities and the various related matters;
- Success stories where persons with disabilities who, despite their conditions, became proficient producers enjoying a sense of dignity and self worth befitting any productive and talented member of society.
Being aware that:
- A high percentage of persons with disabilities negatively affects attainment of MDGs, poverty eradication and sustainable development in the five countries and that this loss of human workforce leads to loss of potential income generation of PwDs and the nation. In addition to this, financial resources at the individual, family and country levels are depleted to meet the continuous needs of persons with disabilities, including clothing, food, treatment, compensatory assistive devices and special equipment where possible;
- Providing the necessary information and ICT enabled devices, infrastructure and software to persons with disabilities would greatly help them to learn about information and communication technology and consequently apply for suitable jobs in the electronic labour marketplace. In addition, persons with disabilities may access basic electronic services such as e-learning and e-health, get valuable knowledge, practice and follow up sports, enjoy inclusion in social life and live as productive members enriching their quality of life and their societies. Moreover, the communication divide and gap can be filled between persons with disabilities and those without disabilities regardless of their special needs;
- The size and complexity of the problem make it impossible for any single entity (governmental, nongovernmental organizations, civil society or specialized organizations) to address or control and manage single handed. Therefore, all concerned parties should cooperate to achieve the targeted national objectives and work together under the umbrella of one coordinated system with clearly defined objectives, roles and responsibilities in accordance with a well-defined plan;
- It is important to maintain continued and intensive exchange of information, experience and share success stories among all relevant parties at the national, sub-regional/regional and international levels, whether electronically or through different platforms;
- It is also important to maintain coordination and exchange of information between the concerned United Nations bodies, especially the ITU, UNDESA, UNESCO, WHO and other concerned entities with respect to enforcement of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.
- Their gratitude and appreciation to nongovernmental organizations and civil society in East Africa for their sustainable efforts despite the limited resources and varying environments.
The Workshop calls upon:
1. The Governments to:
- Draw up policies, develop comprehensive national plans and identify roles and responsibilities of all the relevant national stakeholders;
- Exert their utmost effort to carry out a comprehensive survey and produce periodical statistics on the number, cases and causes of special needs;
- Give due attention to studying the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and devise appropriate work programmes and mechanisms for implementation;
- Exempt all taxes and customs duties all information and communication technology devices and assistive equipment for persons with disabilities, including talking computer images for persons with visual impairment and disability aids for persons with hearing impairment.
- Request the Secretary General of the EAC to develop comprehensive working mechanisms to provide care for the persons with disabilities in all areas including social, health, educational, cultural and sports;
- Call on the EAC Secretary General to direct competent bodies to encourage the specialized ministerial councils and relevant entities and organizations to give attention to persons with disabilities by including ICT accessibility issues for persons with disabilities as a permanent agenda item for their meetings;
- Invite the Council of EAC Ministers of Telecommunications and Information Technology to give due attention to facilitating the access and participation of persons with disabilities to Information and Communication Technology committees and encourage all committees to consider such aspects and
- Call upon the Council of EAC Ministers of Housing to take the necessary action to establish disability-friendly specifications as a condition for granting building licenses to new facilities in the African countries and require adherence to such specifications as a condition for getting building permits especially with respect to public and government buildings, malls, schools, universities, clubs as well as ICT centres including multi-purpose community telecentres and internet cafés.
3. Ministries of Information and Communication Technology (ICT)in EAC countries to:
- Provide the necessary technical and financial support to nongovernmental organizations and schools for persons with disabilities; help them obtain state-of-the-art ICT equipment and software including assistive devices and train the cadres needed to use and maintain such devices within the framework of ICT development projects.
4. Ministries of education in EAC countries to:
- Prepare special educational curriculum for students with disabilities using information and communication technologies and engineers and software developers. The students' capabilities and actual needs should be taken into consideration upon preparing the said curriculum. To this end, Ministries of Education may benefit from the relevant experience of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).
5. Telecommunication/Postal/Broadcasting and Regulatory Authorities in EAC countries to:
- Implement special policies on accessible ICTs for persons with disabilities and enact the regulations and guidelines necessary to facilitate their use of information and communication technology services at affordable rates compatible with their level of affordability. In this regard, national regulatory authorities may make reference to the ITU/G3ict e-Accessibility toolkit or examples of existing models from other countries;
- Include conditions in the private sector company licenses stipulating the employment of a certain percentage of the persons with disabilities in information and communication technology services.
6. Telecommunication companies, service providers and internet providers in EAC countries to:
- Consider providing preferential rates to persons with disabilities, service, contracting and bills settlement;
- Recruit a certain percentage of persons with disabilities in their organizations with or without government incentive.
7. Software companies in EAC countries and throughout the world to:
- Give due attention to designing user-friendly software adapted to local conditions to facilitate its use by persons with disabilities in EAC countries taking due cognizance of multiple languages and cultures in the sub-region.
8. The African private sector to:
- Communicate with government bodies as well as EAC based institutions and international organizations, civil society and individuals interested in social affairs, with a view to support developmental projects to facilitate ICT accessibility to persons with disabilities including availability of assistive devices needed at affordable costs.
9. The ITU to:
- Call on the ITU in collaboration with member states, sector members and other stakeholders to convene similar events on an annual basis;
- Launch accessible and interactive websites and e-forums to address the needs of persons with disabilities and disseminate experience and success stories in the EAC countries;
- Prepare projects promoting ICT accessibility including availability of assistive software and ICT equipment and devices for persons with disabilities, by cooperating with other United Nations specialized agencies and partners;
10. General recommendations.
- All concerned parties in EAC countries, including academic institutions, research centres, universities and companies, should support research and development projects, with a view to developing and producing assistive technologies, devices and facilities to improve the quality of life for persons with disabilities, their families and society.
- Relevant parties in EAC countries should set up criteria, standards and specifications to control the quality of services, software and commodities to be used by persons with disabilities.
- Relevant training and rehabilitation bodies in EAC countries should establish academic and professional training courses to train trainers needed to deal with ICT accessibility issues for persons with disabilities. Selected trainers should possess excellent scientific, professional and behavioral competencies.
- Relevant parties in the EAC countries should adopt, in coordination with UNESCO a sub-regional initiative to devise a unified sign language for people with hearing impairment to facilitate their study and movement throughout the EAC territory.
11. Coordination and follow-up mechanisms.
- National entities (i.e. councils, authorities, associations) concerned with the ICT issues for persons with disabilities in EAC should circulate the report of the meeting to all relevant national parties.
- National entities should form ad hoc committees to follow up implementation in cooperation with all national authorities and organizations. Such committees should include persons with disabilities and reports should be presented to the annual events on this subject.
- All participating bodies and individuals should do their best to operationalize the "Kampala Declaration" and follow up its implementation with the competent national authorities in their respective countries.
WORKSHOP ON ICT ACCESSIBILITY FOR PERSONS WITH DISABILITIES
Kampala, Uganda, 6 May 2010