Friday, January 28, 2011

DISABILITY is not INABILITY: Women,ICTs and Disability in Northern Uganda


"I am not good at videography especially editing but I believe you will all get the message clearly."

The convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPF) was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly on 13 December 2006. A major milestone for all persons living with disabilities around the world, it is the 8th Universal Convention on Human Rights of  which majority of International Telecommunication Union (ITU) member States are signatories to the convention.
Article 9 of the CRPD defines ICT accessibility as an integral part of accessibility rights on par with transportation and physical environment for PWDs. There are indeed so many challenges for PWDs to realize their fundamental Human Right of access to information especially in the developing countries
These challenges include but are not limited to;
  • · Low education levels of  PWDs especially in the developing countries,
  • Absence of assistive technologies to help even the educated PWDs,
  • The absence of clear intervention strategies by governments, local disability leadership and other    stakeholders to save the situation,
  • The fact that majority PWDs live in the most rural parts of Africa and therefore can't be covered by the available ICTs.
And although the Mobile telephone technology is greatly improving accessibility to information in Africa, its applicability for use by people with disabilities is still highly wanting. There are barriers to accessibility mainly because of the different designs of  ICT tools used by people in the mainstream which are not adaptable for use by the PWDs.
In one of the resent trainings for PWDs in Gulu which was organized by Women of Uganda Network with an aim to increase civil society organisations’ use of  and interaction with various forms of media especially PWDs who since time immemorial have been left out of ICT related programs and projects, I was privileged to facilitate a number of session on how ICTs can be used by and for PWDs. The training took place at Gulu Union of Persons with Disability on December 2010 and it was specifically offered to Gulu Landmine Survivors, A local Women’s group in Gulu. The level of enthusiasm and zeal portrayed by the woman was overwhelming. They were eager to learn, listen, implement and share. They wanted to share their stories with the entire world and be heard.

I was drawn to two particular participants, Ms. Adong Lucy a blind Woman and Ms. Jenifer Arach a deaf and dumb Youth. For Lucy, being disabled was not the issue, her issues was about the unfriendliness of ICT tools towards the PWDs especially the blind. She cited an example of airtime cards which are very user unfriendly to the blind. She said that Telecommunication Companies should be sensitive to the PWDs and produce airtime cards with the digits written in braille. In this way, even a blind person would be in position to load credit to their phone without being manipulated. In this video, Lucy shared with me why ICTs have to be user friendly to PWDs.


Jenifer Arach a youth from Gulu on the other hand said that despite the fact that she is a school dropout dumb and deaf, she is very interested in learning especially typing. She said that she wants to own a phone to ease her communication (Mainly SMS) and to increase on her networking opportunities. She shared her story with me.


Why the need to improve web/ICT accessibility for PWDs
Since time immemorial, PWDs all over the word are faced with the problem of exclusion and Isolation. This has contributed to their low levels of education therefore exclusion from majority of social services. During this training, it was noted that there is need to improve ICT accessibility for PWDs and this could be done through the following suggested ways:

·   Easy access to the web which can be used for news, information, commerce & entertainment among others though aiding devices like the Braile for the blind and speech software.
·       Adopting new technologies like real time captioning which is very relevant for the deaf.
·        Using other assistive technologies like mobile phones which are speech and visual aided. 

Proposals and plans of actions Identified at an ITU/UCC workshop held in 2010 in Kampala to address these challenges;

a) As a means of inclusion of persons with disabilities in the development of infrastructure; it was proposed that a universal access fund for Infrastructure especially geared to underprivileged areas, and disadvantaged groups including women, youth and persons with disabilities be established;

b) Governments in partnership with civil society should  increase opportunities for training of women and persons with disabilities through education, training and human resource development taking into account special consideration of underprivileged areas;

c) As part of policy development process, the participation of women and other disadvantaged groups should be facilitated and encouraged in the ICT policy development and implementation process.

Friday, January 14, 2011

I weep for my nation Uganda: Our Education system is failing us.

I only heard, learned and studied about them in high school back in Africa; The Atlantic Ocean, the snow, the Hudson bay, Appalachians …….. e.t.c and now  am right here seeing them with my very own eyes and having the actual picture of what I only had an opportunity, to see in text books and on Television some years ago. Yes, I am writing this from Nova Scotia Canada.

When I left Uganda on 1st January 2011 for North America, in pursuit of a Masters’ degree, all I could think about was, what lay ahead of me and how I would cope with the new education system which I believed was so different from that in Africa, specifically Uganda.
Just one week and a half into the semester at St. Mary’s University Halifax, http://www.smu.ca/ My thoughts are turning into reality. The education system, the style of lecturing and the reading culture are not only different from those in Uganda but far way advanced.  On the first day of my class, I missed two lectures because I was not up to speed. I was still figuring out how to register myself online for the courses I was supposed to take, which I did not complete in time to attend both lectures. When I finally got registered and started attending my very first class (Human and Computer interaction), I was impressed by the method of teaching, it was so inclusive, participatory and practical (though with gender issues in terms of students taking on the course). It even involved live streaming of vidoes on Youtube  about the importance of  observing human behavior when planning to design a system . See highlight of Vidoes 


Lots of interesting sessions followed.

But the only thing that came to my mind was Uganda’s education system. It’s true that it  experienced a major expansion when it started implementing the Universal Primary Education programme in 1997. Enrollment figures increased enormously and there are now about 8 million children enrolled in Primary schools but quality didn’t improve at the same speed. Current characteristics of education in Uganda include high absenteeism rates for pupils and teachers (up to 20%), low completion rate (54%) especially for girls, prevalent violence against children in schools and lack of sanitation (1 latrine for 66 pupils)-UNICEF, Kampala. I just had to lament to myself.

Until now, even as I write this short blog, I can’t help but weep for a nation full of young energetic and brilliant citizens whose energy is wasted as a result of unemployment that stems from the poor education system (FYI, I have been through the whole system) and who are being slowly but surely weakened and killed by the AIDS epidemic.

“The HIV/AIDS epidemic in Uganda: 1.2 million HIV-positive adults, 150,000 HIV-positive children, 120,000 new infections per year, 64,000 deaths per year, 6-7% of adults HIV-positive, 350,000 in need of antiretroviral drugs and 1.2 million Orphans due to AIDS”

As a young woman, I will devote my time and energy to try and help fellow young people in my country change the future of our nation. FOR GOD AND MY COUNTRY!