May 19 was Global Accessibility Awareness Day (GAAD), a Day set aside to raise awareness about digital access and inclusion. The Day, which is celebrated every year on the third Thursday of May, was first observed in 2012 with the objective of ensuring accessibility is built into the product development lifecycle of technological and digital products.
While technology innovation is moving at an unprecedented pace, it has become even more imperative to include accessibility as a core requirement in order not to leave behind the more than one billion people with disabilities or impairments worldwide.
People with disabilities in Ghana make up an estimated 3% of an over 31.07 million population, according to the Ghana Statistical Service. People living with various forms of disabilities or impairments struggle to access various digital and technological services, including telecommunications. In most cases, they are compelled to seek the help of family, friends or loved ones, which sometimes becomes a great inconvenience.
In Ghana, one organisation that has shown outstanding leadership in driving accessibility and inclusivity through a modelled product and service is Vodafone Ghana. In 2017, Vodafone Ghana launched its ground-breaking SuperCare initiative to enable the speech and hearing-impaired community to access dedicated services and customer experience support.
Angela Mensah-Poku, Director of Digital Transformation and Customer Operations, in a quick comment said: “Our strategy is grounded in our purpose to connect for a better future, and this is focused on three key pillars – Digital Society, Inclusion for All, and Planet. Inclusion for All enjoins us to create an enabling digital society that is accessible to all, with no one left behind. We believe that we have a role to play in helping to ensure that people with disabilities have accessible products and technologies which allow them to participate in modern society. This is the thought that goes into our product development process, which also birthed SuperCare”.
The telecommunication heavyweight launched a dedicated customer experience unit for the hearing-impaired in the country. The initiative makes it possible for people who have trouble hearing or speaking to use the network’s services without any problems.
In addition, Vodafone Ghana came up with a unique package that gives customers access to heavily discounted data. Neglected for so long, Vodafone Ghana is the first and only mobile network catering to the needs of that community. Emmanuel Sackey, President of the Ghana Association for the Deaf, stated that this is the first time that a special package has been created for them, and he is excited about it.
Registered members of the Ghana National Association for the Deaf and their close families use data that is highly subsidized, and SMS bundle packages designed to help them communicate effectively by way of video and SMS applications.
Angela explained that the specialised customer centre has trained agents who are able to communicate with the speech and hearing impaired through digital means such as video services. “The speech and hearing-impaired can dial the short code *494# and request a customer care official who will call back to give them the service support they require. Additionally, customers can request either a video or WhatsApp call, which will be returned by Vodafone for the customer to be assisted.”
Hearing-impaired employees have been hired by Vodafone Ghana to work in the specialised SuperCare contact centre and some Vodafone retail shops, where they can sign and provide assistance to hearing-impaired customers. As a result of this intervention, people with this impairment no longer need to rely on the assistance of their relatives and friends when it comes to making basic inquiries or subscribing to offers.
Vodafone has also demonstrated a strong commitment to improving the lives of people with disabilities through skills development. Its charity arm, Vodafone Ghana Foundation, organises digital and technology-related training for people with disabilities as part of its Birthday Stars initiative. Last month, the foundation trained over 50 girls in recycled arts, 3D printing and digital skills.
“At Vodafone, our core purpose is to connect people for a better future. Driving inclusivity is part of a broader strategy to help reduce inequality, which is captured under Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 10. We are working to extend our unique services under SuperCare to people with other disabilities or impairment groups. We believe that technology innovations are incomplete if they fail to meet the accessibility-related needs of everyone,” she added.