MUSCAT: An international study shows Oman’s leadership in ICT accessibility for people with disability. The results of this study were announced for the first time during the 6th International Conference on Information and Communication Technology and Accessibility (ICTA) 2017, which held its closing ceremony on December 21 at the Sultan Qaboos University under the patronage of Dr Rahma al Mahrooqi, the SQU Deputy Vice-Chancellor for Postgraduate Studies and Research.
ICTA 2017 is an ALECSO international biannual conference which has been organised this time in collaboration with the College of Education (SQU), ISESCO, and the Omani National Commission for Education, Culture and Science.
The results of this international study were announced by Axel Leblois, President of Global Initiative for Inclusive Information and Communication Technologies (G3ict), formed in 2016 at the initiative of UN DESA.
In his remarks, Leblois credited the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) for the rapid adoption around the world of policies and legislations protecting the rights of persons with disabilities.
Out of 12 Arab League countries who participated in a survey of good practices in ICT accessibility (Algeria, Egypt, Iraq, Lebanon, Mauritania, Morocco, Oman, Qatar, Sudan, State of Palestine, Tunisia, Yemen):
All have ratified the CRPD
100 per cent have legislations protecting the rights of persons with disabilities vs 84 per cent worldwide
58 per cent have aligned their definition of accessibility with article 9 of the CRPD by including ICTs or electronic media on par with the built environment and transportation.
While those numbers show great commitments and a favourable evolution of legislation for ICT accessibility among Arab League countries surveyed, their actual implementation is lagging vs laws and policies in place.
For instance, among the same countries, only 16 per cent have any meaningful level of implementation for accessible television, for the deaf notably, only 25 per cent have a meaningful implementation of web accessibility policies and only 25 per cent have any meaningful policy to make mobile phones and services accessible and available to persons with disabilities.
In analysing the reasons for such significant gap between commitments and outcomes, Leblois unveiled the preliminary results of the research conducted in 2017 by G3ict in cooperation with disabled people among 121 countries. Organised in the form of an index measuring the level of maturity of countries in implementing the CRPD dispositions on ICT accessibility, the research covers countries’ commitments, capacity to implement and actual outcomes for persons with disabilities.
Leblois showed that for commitments, Arab countries are ahead vs world average, but that in matters of capacity to implement, they are lagging, notably because of the lack of participation of persons with disabilities in developing and monitoring ICT accessibility programs and limited participation in standards development organisations. However, four countries, Oman, Qatar, Algeria and Egypt have better capacities to implement than their peer group, with Oman in the lead. Oman indeed has already in place the 5 key elements identified by G3ict as critical success factors:
A government agency for PWDs
A government agency for ICTs
A process to involve PWDs in policy making on ICT accessibility
Participation in standard development organisations
ICT accessibility courses available at major universities
In terms of actual outcomes, results across the board for all areas of ICTs showed very limited outcomes for persons with disabilities.
Arab countries, however, were again ahead of global averages due to three countries performing well in selected areas such as Egypt for its work on promoting ICT accessibility in education, Qatar for its work on assistive technologies and Oman for its across the board solid performance. Overall, Leblois mentioned that the scores for outcomes show Oman in the lead at 31/50, Qatar at 30/50 and Egypt at 24/50.
In conclusion, Leblois noted that there are three “no or little cost” strategies that government can promote with significant positive impact:
Involving organisations of persons with disabilities in policies and programs about ICT accessibility
Promoting ICT accessibility rules for public procurement, which creates competition for best accessibility features among ICT vendors and a stimulus to develop local accessibility expertise
Launching ICT accessibility courses and certification for professionals which helps all organisations ensure that they have the skills required among their team to deliver accessible contents and services.
Oman, concluded Leblois, is very well positioned to continue playing a leading role in the Arab region. Its preliminary successes demonstrate that ICT accessibility is in reach for most countries if they adopt and leverage the processes listed above.