Wednesday, October 27, 2021

Kenya to build Africa’s First ICT Accessibility Standard to promote Digital Inclusion of People with Disabilities

A national ICT Accessibility Standard is set to be developed in Kenya. This is thanks to inABLE, a nonprofit organisation that empowers the blind and visually impaired with computer assistive technology, partnering with the Kenya Bureau of Standards (KEBS).

A first in Africa, the development and eventual enactment of a National ICT Accessibility Standard will promote the digital inclusion of people with disabilities (PWDs) and older persons. This will help make public and private sector digital products and services (including websites, mobile applications among others) more accessible and usable by all Kenyan citizens. 

inABLE has been actively advocating for the digital inclusion of PWDs in Kenya and Africa through sustainable partnerships over the last 13 years.

Irene Mbari-Kirika, the Founder and Executive Director of inABLE has been a vocal digital accessibility champion: “We are honored to form a solid partnership with the KEBS to develop the National ICT Accessibility Standards towards fulfilling the promises set forth in the 2019 Kenya ICT Policy. This will have a crucially positive impact on public and private sector digital products and services by making them more accessible to everyone, including persons with disabilities and the elderly”. 

The creation of a national ICT Accessibility Standard comes at a very pivotal time, as the Covid-19 pandemic exposed a consequential digital divide and dire need for accessible digital platforms. Bernard Njiraini, MD, KEBS explains, “as the world quickly shifted to digital platforms, including virtual meetings, working from home, home schooling and even the government shared more public health information, the lack of access to vital online services disconnected millions of people, especially PWDs.”

Njiraini, adds. “KEBS is committed to delivering meaningful and operational standards that enhance the lives of Kenyans, and we are therefore excited to be working with a dedicated organization like inABLE towards making this possible” 

The Kenyan government has led with a number of first steps in Africa, setting an example to the other African nations. For example, the Big 4 Agenda, an accelerated 5-year development plan is designed to fast track the realization of Kenya’s Vision 2030, which aims to transform Kenya into a newly industrializing, middle-income country providing a high quality of life to all its citizens by 2030 in a clean and secure environment. This agenda has four pillars including manufacturing meant to lead Kenya to achieving top 50 rank in the world Banks’s ease of doing business index; food security; universal health coverage; and affordable housing. One of the six key enablers of this agenda is technology and innovation which focusses on expansion of current e-Government services across the 47 Counties among others. 

These e-government services will be accessible to all including PWDs, thanks to the newly gazetted 2019 Kenya ICT policy that is very inclusive and accommodative of the digital needs of PWDs in Kenya. The policy mandates full accessibility for PWDs through some of the following measures: 

  • Ensure that ICT services and emergency communications made available to the public are provided in alternative accessible formats for PWDs 
  • Review existing legislation and regulations to promote ICT accessibility for PWDs in consultation with organizations representing PWDs among others 
  • Ensure that websites of government departments and agencies comply with international web accessibility standards and are accessible for PWDs 
  • Promote Research and Development for ICT access for PWDs, among others. 

Over the next few months, KEBS and inABLE will be working together along with other stakeholders, including the National Council of People with Disabilities in Kenya (NCPWD), Communications Authority (CA) and ICT Authority and individuals with lived experiences, to draft the national ICT accessibility standard. This standard development process is in line with inABLE’s upcoming annual Inclusive Africa Conference happening on September 30th this year with a mission to advance digital accessibility in Africa.  

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