Access Denied: How Telecom Operators in Africa are Failing Persons with Disabilities
Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) have the potential to make significant improvements in the lives of persons with disabilities through enabling their access to information, and enhancing their social and economic integration in communities by enlarging the scope of activities available to them. Yet, while a great number of people now use ICT for a growing range of tasks, many persons with disabilities in Africa still find it hard to access and use digital technologies. As a result, they continue to miss out on the potential digital dividends. Indeed, a 2018 United Nations study found that, in many countries, persons with disabilities faced inequality in accessing ICT and assistive technologies. Assistive technologies are tools that persons with disabilities use to accomplish tasks, and they include screen readers, screen magnification software, text readers, and speech input software. In many instances, persons with disabilities are unable to use digital technologies because these technologies lack “digital accessibility”, namely the ability of a website, mobile application or electronic document to be easily navigated and understood by a wide range of users, including those with visual, auditory, motor or cognitive disabilities. Digital accessibility is thus key to enabling persons with disabilities access information and services. It is also an enabler of the enjoyment of other rights, such as the right to education, employment, social services, and political participation. However, for persons with disabilities to realise technology’s transformative potential, their rights must be provided for in national laws and policies, and countries must take deliberate steps to ensure that they have unfettered access to quality information and ICT, and are protected from all forms of discrimination.