The response was sourced from the Federation of Disability Organisations in Malawi (FEDOMA), Malawi Council for the Handicapped, (MACOHA) and Department of Persons with Disabilities
What are the different challenges facing persons with disabilities and specific needs (e.g. lack of ICT skill sets etc.) in accessing and PWD because of lack of assist using the Internet?
People of differing abilities face diverse challenges in accessing the Internet. The same Web site can offer opportunities for one group and excludes another. For example, regarding Web-based distance education, it has opened opportunities for persons with physical disabilities to take courses online, but if such persons also have weak or limited function of hands and fingers, their participation in the course may be limited or impossible. Similarly, a Web-enabled mobile device with a touch screen is wonderful to a user with a hearing impairment and yet horrendous to a user with a visual impairment, if it is not designed to provide alternative methods for interactions. The major challenges for Malawi can be summed up in the following broad areas:
(i) Persons with visual impairments face challenges in the lack of compatibility of Web content with screen readers. These are software applications that provide computer-synthesized speech output of what appears on the screen, as well as equivalent text provided in the back-end code.
(ii) Screen-reader users have problems when there are no appropriate text tags on graphics, links, forms, or tables.
(iii) Cluttered layout, buttons and links that are too small, create barriers for Persons with motor impairments, such as limited or no use of fingers or hands. Other navigability considerations (such as requiring the use of a pointing device) can render entire sites and functions unusable.
(iv) The lack of textual equivalents of audio content can cut off large portions of the content of a site, and interactive Web chats and other conferencing features may be impossible for persons with hearing impairments.
(v) People with speech and communication impairments can also be excluded from interactive Web chats and other conferencing features.
(vi) Persons with cognitive impairments, such as autism, dementia, or traumatic brain injury, are affected by issues of design, layout, and navigability.
(vii) People with specific learning disabilities, depending on their nature, may face the same barriers as people with visual impairments or people with cognitive impairments.
(viii) The rates of flickering and flash can jeopardize the health of people with seizure disorders, such as epilepsy.
(ix) Lack of Assistive Technologies and software (Jaws and Dolphin Pen Software) to support PWD in computer labs, internet cafes, telecentres. Further, high cost of the software /license (Jaws and Dolphin Pen) that can read aloud words on the internet for persons with difficulties in seeing
(x) Some people with difficulties in hearing would need an interpreter to inform them of the new technologies, without which, they may not be able to have access to new ICT materials
(xi) As technology becomes more and more advanced, PWD are not considered in the design of the new technologies and generally, people feel that PWD cannot use the internet.
(xii) Generally the general public has a conception that PWD cannot use ICTs and as such, it is observed that PWD cannot manage to get into the internet cafes, telecentres and some of the institutions. People with difficulties in moving cannot get into these public place. Some organizations also need to be made aware that even persons with disabilities are capable of accessing ICT services, as DISABILITY IS NOT INABILITY.
What possible approaches and examples of good practices are available to address these challenges?
In the absence of policy or a body that monitors procurement and use of disability friendly Web and Internet technologies, it is difficult to talk about good-practice in Malawi. However, some of the possible approaches in Malawi include:
(i) Malawi has the Disability Act that promotes the rights of PWD but it also allows them to take an active part in the society in Malawi. however, PWD have not actively participated in issues related to internet access because of the challenges highlighted.
(ii) The ICT legislation in Malawi gives mandate to the ICT regulator to ensure universal access: this means that the regulator should ensure that provision of ICT services is all inclusive. The regulator need to put up a regulatory framework that should address the access gap for PWD.
(iii) Malawi has some institutions like Malawi Council for the Handicapped (MACOHA), Federation for Disability Organizations in Malawi (FEDOMA) etc. These organizations have been established in to enhance the welfare of all PWD and enable them to assume their rightful role in society: these institutions can be instrumental in address the access gap if several stakeholders can work in cooperate with these institutions to address the access gap for PWD,
What are the gaps in addressing these challenges and how can these gaps be filled?
The gaps in addressing challenges listed above include, but are not limited to the following: firstname.lastname@example.org
(i) A lack of- or inadequate policy in the area and perhaps government’s lack of prioritization in the face of other competing needs.
(ii) The absence of a body or department tasked with the responsibility of monitoring the procurement and distribution of disability friendly Web and Internet technologies and facilities.
(iii) Generalized poverty, which includes high cost of both equipment and internet. The majority of government primary and secondary schools do not offer computer literacy, let alone internet access.
(iv) High illiteracy levels
(v) Inadequate public internet facilities. Lack of- or limited access to electricity plus internet in urban townships and rural areas.
(vi) Lack of skills across the board, meaning that the ordinary Malawian, let alone those with disabilities do not have technical, software and Website proficiency.
The possible mechanisms to address these gaps include:
(i) Government deliberate policies to address such gaps would be very instrumental in addressing such gaps
(ii) The ICT Regulatory should review its regulatory framework so that it is all inclusive and should create a conducive environment for ensuring PWD are not discriminated.
(iii) The disability sector should be involved at the planning and design level of organizational ICT infrastructure so that some of the challenges can be tackled at planning stage.
(iv) Set up a fund that should subsidize the purchase of assistive technologies to ensure assistive technologies are available and accessed b PWD in the public internet access centers, PWD training centers and Internet Cafe's.
What is the role of governments in addressing these challenges and gaps?
The government's role in this is to put up a Legislation that supports connectivity for PWD. The existing legal and regulatory framework on ICT should be strengthened so that they should protect the rights of PWD with respect to access of internet.
The government, in collaboration with FEDOMA and other disability organizations should spearhead the development of policy and guidelines for the area under investigation.