How can we address Digital Literacy and Digital inclusion without turning our focus to a key segment among the disadvantaged – Persons with Disability (PwD)? Society is already built for a disability-free populace and yet, even in such a setting the digital gap is glaring. At Digital Literacy Initiative, we believe that area-specific solutions for the physically impaired is a must.
Whereas the latest operating systems have features like text-to-speech, visual displays of sound alerts, other adaptations for learning disabilities, and Assistive Technology, challenges still exist. For example, there are Mobility issues, and access to technologies compounded by the fact that a majority of PwD are from low-income households, illiterate, lack technical skills, have limited support, and are not supported by existing policies.
It is expected that advancements in the Internet of things, and some new technologies will improve the lives of PwD, compensate for physical and functional limitations – allowing them do more in their education, work and social lives.
For Digital Literacy Initiative (DLI) to bridge the gap mentioned earlier, our ICTs for PwD programme will aim to equip them into work, improve their livelihood (own property and homes) and enable them have access to primary healthcare and services meant for PwD.
In most of Africa, the radio still leads as the device many PwD use the most to access information. Consider a study carried out by Uganda Communications Commission (2017). It revealed that the radio (70.1%) as the most accessible and used device among PwD, followed closely by the mobile phone (69.4%), and only 8% are using computers. Internet usage as a whole was found to be at upto 16%.
What this means is, there is a lot to be done in Uganda and most of Africa at large if we extrapolate these findings to use as a basis on arguing for ICTs for PwD.
In this same study, only 5% of PwD had heard of Assistive Technologies (AT), 1% ever used the ATs, and only a meagre 0.5% were currently using the technology. For starters, this reveals a major gap in information. If the target audience (PwD) do not know about the existence of most of the tools available for them, how can they make an informed choice?
Yes, it is argued by some that, in many cases – when PwD are presented with these choices, individuality comes into play and some may choose to not adopt the technologies. Here at Digital Literacy Initiative, we are strong proponents of the notion that all must be presented with options and what they choose is then up to them.
With regard to this ‘Digital Inclusion by Choice,’ it was stated (Fay 2014) that our sense of self is constructed in relation to how we view ourselves and how others view us. This fact therefore emphasizes the role of the environments we create for PwD.
In the same light, since choices will vary from individual to individual, it is key to note that, this does not mean that PwD are completely different and do not share problems. Still, it does not mean that they have exactly the same problems. This is why we propose that such a programme identifies the most important problems and present solutions.
Ultimately, this ICT for PwD program can only be considered a success when PwD can; manage their disability, manage health issues, carryout their daily activities with ease, and feel socially included by using prevailing technologies.