On 16 January 2020, NetMission hosted Training II – Access and Empowerment for us. The working group presented on the theme by citing a case study in Pakistan. The case study talked about how internet access in a remote village in Pakistan empowered girl children with the arm of education and thus, improved the school attendance rate. And to keep things more interesting, the guests – Mr. Naveed Ul Haq from ISOC, Pakistan and Ms. Maureen Hilyard from ICANN ALAC shared their insights on the theme.
This was followed by a breakout session where all the ambassadors were randomly assigned to two groups – one led by Naveed and the other led by Maureen. The Working Group had prepared the following policy questions for us:
1. Through Policy discussions, how can we ensure that the Internet satisfies the Use and Relevance characteristics on the basis of network Infrastructure?
2. What are different digital tools that can be used to empower the students and teachers in developing countries like Pakistan to have better Internet Accessibility?
3. Apart from the Community Network Initiative, are there any other options to where the Pakistani or any other nation can use to do lessen the digital-divide issues?
4. What are some general challenges when connecting with local implementation partners and making use of local capacities and resources to extend the Accessibility in a developing country like Pakistan?
5. What are the latest suggestions in order to raise the incorporate awareness and capacity building activities to develop the Internet Empowerment within a country?
I was a part of Maureen’s group. The discussion in my group was led by WG – 2’s key presenter, Arvind. He pitched in the third policy question to kick-start the discussion. In response, I emphasized how in the Asia-Pacific, and in South Asia, more specifically, a big chunk of the population resides in the remote villages and is more or less not able to comprehend when presented with content in English. So, in order to make the internet penetration higher than that at present, the governments and the organizations working in these countries must try to maximize the amount of online content available in local languages.
I also asked our guest speaker Maureen about accessibility. Access means whether or not you can use it. Accessibility means inclusive design, one that works well for everyone. For persons with disabilities, accessibility means being able to use a product or service as effectively as a person without a disability. This means using inclusive design principles to make products and services usable by a wider section of the population.
Persons with disabilities form the world’s largest minority according to the United Nations. One billion people are estimated by the World Health Organisation to have a disability with 80% living in developing countries. Persons with disabilities can equally participate in society and make substantial contributions to the economy. Changing peoples’ attitudes to disability is fundamental to achieving greater accessibility. The traditional view of disability is through the medical model, that is, attempting to “fix” or rehabilitate a person to society’s norms. The social model of disability aims to dismantle the “ambiance” barriers so that a person with a disability can fully participate in the community. Through removing barriers, persons with disabilities will be better able to use and contribute to the richness of the Internet by participating independently in the communities of their choice.
Companies such as Microsoft and Apple now have progressive attitudes toward accessibility. But such a progressive attitude has come about in part as a result of both a “carrot” and “stick” approach in capitalist countries like the U.S. But what about the Asia-Pacific where the governments are so diverse from communist to socialist, mixed to a capitalist?
The discussions concluded that accessibility criterion must be incorporated in public procurement policies, stimulating industry to supply more accessible products to its agencies. Countries should be encouraged to sign the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. Obligations include implementing measures to design, develop, produce and distribute accessible ICT at an early stage, so these become accessible at minimum cost for persons with disabilities.
The World Summit on the Information Society, the Tunis Agenda for the Information Society, states that for equitable access to occur, attention should be given to universal design and promotion of assistive technologies. Universal design or Design for All is the concept of designing products and services for a wider section of the community and that devices do not have to be retrofitted for accessibility but take that into consideration as part of their original design.
The Internet Governance Forum (IGF) recognizes accessibility to the Internet as a key issue and through its Dynamic Coalition on Accessibility and Disability has highlighted steps towards an inclusive society. A simple form of inclusion adopted by the IGF itself is the use of real-time captions for its workshop and conference sessions, including online sessions. This is beneficial for persons from non-English speaking backgrounds but vital for persons with hearing impairment. And finally, in the Round Table session, Mr. Naveed emphasized that as urgent and important as it is for the national governments to implement accessibility in different dimensions of the internet service provisions, it is also equally profitable for the businesses because with accessibility becoming a trend, the number of users will increase and that will skyrocket their revenues. Many Microsoft and Apple products and services are now designed to be accessible right from the start. For example, the iPhone is popular with blind people who can use the device “out of the box” without the need for assistive add-ons. As another example, YouTube offers an auto-captioning feature to make it easier to caption videos. This may even be considered as a revenue source where videos can be indexed and thus be more available for advertisers.
About the writer
Ananya Singh (NetMission Ambassador of class 2019/20, India)
Bachelor’s Degree in Economics, BJB Autonomous College