Digital representation matters—Fostering Internet inclusion among PWDs

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Digital representation matters—Fostering Internet inclusion among PWDs

In today’s world, the internet has paved the way for the advancement of humanity into a new era. From Polokwane to Accra to Nairobi and across the continent of Africa, easy and meaningful access to the internet is a driver for economic growth; just as roads and railways provided the arteries for commerce in the Industrial Revolution.

Today’s internet infrastructure is the circulatory system on which much of modern life depends. The covid-19 pandemic has presented us with new ways of doing things where most activities are done online. Activities such as e-learning, e-commerce are at the heart of the internet. We have moved from brick-and-mortar to click and order.

People with disabilities (PWDs) are a group of people with special needs and are faced daily with myriad challenges that surpass different aspects of their lives. Situating the conversation in Ghana and Africa by extension. Evidence from the Ghana Statistical Service (GSS) suggests PWDs account for 3.7 percent of the population. According to Statista, the prevalence of disability in low -and – middle-income countries (LMIC) is higher than in high-income countries, and the data shows close to 400 million people live with a form of disability in Africa.

Moreover, in Ghana, internet penetration has significantly improved from 30.8 percent in 2018 to 50 percent in 2021. However, the population of PWDs in Ghana is high as anecdotal evidence suggests, these people are still underrepresented in technology jobs, active participation in the civic engagement of the internet, and internet literacy.

People with disability are often faced with barriers to education and training, stereotyping— other people presume they have a lower quality of life. All these factors limit their job opportunities leading to poverty, social exclusion, and restricted access to basic social amenities. PWD’s limitations to the internet are mostly shaped by the high cost of broadband internet and adoption of ICT tools due to low-income levels among PWDs and lack of digital skills to scale up, reskill and upskill.

In 2016, the United Nations identified accessibility of the internet as a basic human right. It clearly explains every individual needs information for daily decision making and the internet is one pivotal tool that promotes self-development and active participation in a democratic society. Yet misconceptions, stereotypes, and discrimination continue to be a barrier that limits PWDs from realizing their potential. With increasing technological innovations and digitization drive rolled out by the government:

  • What does the digitization drive mean for people with disabilities?
  • How do people with disabilities access the internet and leverage that for sustainable jobs?
  • What is the state of our technological internet services, is it inclusive for easy accessibility by PWDs?

Way forward

The Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 8 seeks to promote sustained, inclusive, and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment, and decent work for all. In line with this, it is necessary to design educative and training programs for PWDs which are in tune or in alignment with the ever-changing aspirations, commitments, wishes, longings, exigencies, and demands of education curricula and frameworks that will enable them to acquaint themselves with modern trends of technology.

Effective digital skills which consider fully equipping the individual holistically are crucial in equipping PWDs to improve on their standard of living and bring out innovation and ingenuity. In the past, training in Information Communication Technology (ICT), internet literacy, and capacity building by governments have often been without the needed spark as its sustainability has suffered hiccups due to administrative changes over successive periods.

The Institute of ICT Professionals Ghana since its inception in 2017 has provided platforms for training and mentoring, which seek to fully embrace disability inclusion at every level and be part of the solution. More corporate bodies, institutions should concertedly make efforts to ensure PWDs are digitally included.

Furthermore, it is morally imperative to be more inclusive digitally, as the internet is for everyone and should not be the preserve of the privileged and selected few. Thus, software developers and content writers must design digital experiences tailored to meet the needs of people with physical disabilities, speech difficulties, hearing impairments, cognitive impairments, and blindness. Government departments and agencies must develop, design, and curate websites with a wider range of experiences that comply with international web accessibility best standards, ensuring these websites are easily accessible by PWDs.

As the pandemic continues to drag, it has revealed a consequential digital divide and online safety for PWDs. Digital platforms have become commonplace, and as such, best policies and practices must be incorporated. The policies should be inclusive and accommodative of the digital needs of PWDs in Ghana. Adjusting to a post-covid-19 world presents an opportunity for governments to reassess policies to increase the inclusion of persons with disabilities. In framing and formulation of such policies, legislations, and regulations, consulting with people with disabilities is critical, as their needs are heard.

To conclude, Ghana cannot be left behind in the comity of nations, especially as the digital economy is set to replace the traditional economy. Leveraging on the internet is a driver for economic growth and development, bridging the already inequality in our society. Internet inclusion matters. Digital representation for all is key for national development.

The Author is a Member, Institute for ICT Professionals Ghana)

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