A report by the United Nations agency for information and communication technologies (ICTs) and its partners released on September 23, 2013 has mapped out the necessary steps to making ICTs suitable for, and available to, people with disabilities.
BY TAFADZWA MURANGANWA
ICTs already help people with disabilities participate more fully in society, both economically and socially. Yet, challenges remain, says the report.
The report identifies the barriers that people with disabilities experience in accessing and using ICTs such as web services, mobile devices, television, electronic kiosks such as ATMs and computers.
The inhibitions include the cost of making ICTs accessible, the price of the technology as well as training and support for using it, and the cost of assessing the person’s requirements and poor implementation of policies to foster the creation of accessible ICTs.
The report outlines action to be taken by groups such as governments, the private sector, civil society organisations and the UN.
Following this report, the disabled community in Zimbabwe is singing from the same hymn book that there is a need for making ICTs accessible to them.
Speaking in Harare recently on a discussion on Young Voices Through Media organised by the Youth Empowerment and Transformation Trust (YETT), Masimba Kuchera, director of the Centre for Disability and Development said most of the youths who are blind are failing to access vital information that can empower them.
“Information is a vehicle for development and the youths should have access to it, but as disabled and blind people, we cannot easily access such information.
“Even infrastructure in ICTs resource centres are not accessible. For example, a wheel-chaired person might find it difficult to use lifts in a building like this (Media Centre, Harare),” Masimba said.
The UN report suggests that government updates disability legislation to include ICTs and include accessibility requirements in their procurement policies, as well as promote the availability and affordability of accessible ICTs and assistive technologies.
Zimbabwe is currently working towards an ICT policy and for Taremekedzwa Simango, an Inforamtion Technology (IT) expert, there should a dedicated ICT policy for the disabled.
“As calls for the ICT policy gather momentum, it should be a concern that there hasn’t been a policy dedicated to the disabled community to make them at par with their able-bodied counterparts,” he said.
He said there is also need for IT experts and researchers to come up with software that can enable especially the visually impaired to access web and e-learning services.
One such project was successfully launched at the University of Zimbabwe (UZ) in 2010.
The UZ Library in co-operation with European non-for-profit organisation EIFL (Electronic Information for Libraries) installed virtual magnifying glass on computer screens in the UZ Disability Resource Centre where most visually impaired students benefited immensely.
A snap survey on many Internet cafés and resource centres in Zimbabwe shows that most of them do not have infrastructure that is friendly to the disabled community.
Such is the sad story of 24-year-old Elvis Dumba, who has an impaired hearing, who desires to access the Internet for his studies.
“There are no assistive technologies in the Internet cafés in town while I need to access information for my programme. I am virtually left with no option, but to wait to go home where my brother who has an iPhone 5 that enables me to video communicate,” a concerned Dumba said.
A report by the National Association of Societies for the Care of the Handicapped entitled People with Disability sidelined in Global HIV and Aids intervention-once again by executive director Farai Mukuta notes that access to information among other factors, particularly to women with disabilities, is a concern that continues to make them vulnerable.
“Access to information and treatment, and issues of social status have been noted to be issues of real concern for women with disabilities, “states the report.
It also highlights that they are excluded in awareness campaigns.
Most awareness campaigns in Zimbabwe use the media and print materials which put some of the disabled community at a disadvantage.
Sexual health and reproductive health rights among the disabled have also come under scrutiny as they have less accessibility to information.
It is estimated that 10% of Zimbabwe’s population has a disability — 5% are visually impaired.
The United Nations’ Youth Social Policy and Development Division publication stipulates that young people with disabilities are among the poorest and most marginalised of the world’s youth.
Estimates suggest that there are between 180 and 220 million youth with disabilities worldwide, and nearly 80% of them live in developing countries.
Organisations representing people living with disabilities have, over the years, been up in arms with the government over their exclusion in matters of governance.
However, there is now a glint of hope as the new government, in line with the new Constitution, has elected Nyamayabo Mashavakure and Annah Shiri to represent the disabled in the Senate with the former representing males and the latter females.
The new Constitution specifically provides for disability as a prohibited ground of discrimination.
What this means is that all the forms of disability have been included in the new Constitution by use of the term “disability” without any attempt to enumerate the forms for people with disabilities unlike the former laws that had completely left them out.