Bridging the Digital Divide For Persons With Disability In Nigeria
By Inyene Ibanga
The emergence of digital technology has continued to improve accessibility for people by making their daily lives more comfortable and easier. As a critical enabler and disrupter, digital technology is transforming lives and empowering people across the world at a blistering pace.
Digital technology and innovation is accelerating change and inclusion by providing a platform for accessing and sharing information, and connecting people to a diverse range of products and services across local and international boundaries.
With the quick succession of new digital devices and applications, it is widely accepted that technology has the incredible potential for improving lives by helping citizens and organisations to participate in social and economic activities that are beneficial to them in diverse ways.
However, while technology is changing the world in astonishing ways, there are certain segments of the population that are facing barriers to reaping the full benefits of this ubiquitous development.
Persons living with disabilities (PLWDs), women and girls and rural dwellers, low income earners, and unemployed persons, are among segments of the population that experience exclusion from the digital transformation space.
An estimated one billion people experience some form of disability, with the majority of the world’s 650 million disabled people living in developing countries, and of these 80 per cent live in rural areas.
Nigeria’s president, Muhammadu Buhari on January 23, 2019, gave assent to the Discrimination Against Persons With Disability (Prohibition) Act. The Act prohibits all forms of discrimination against persons with disability. Violation of the law by an individual will attract a fine of N100,000 or a term of six months imprisonment and a fine of one million naira on corporate bodies.
According to the 2018 Nigeria Demographic and Health Survey, an estimated 7 per cent of household members above the age of five, as well as 9 per cent of those 60 years or older, experience some level of difficulty in at least one functional domain — seeing, hearing, communication, cognition, walking, or self-care.
Regardless of their disability, persons living with any form of disability are human too, and they have desires, talents, and skills. These people don’t want to be dependent on others to do things for them. They want to be self-sufficient and to be able to live with a sense of mastery and dignity.
Persons with disability need opportunities to acquire the knowledge, skills and vocation that will enable them not only actively participate in the family and community, but to also contribute to the society in a productive way.
As such, developing creative capacity for the persons with disability by removing barriers in order to facilitate self-efficiency and mastery is necessary support to help them live full and productive lives.
Technology can help improve independent living for persons living with a disability, serve to open doors and provide access to opportunities and thereby make life easier and more normal for these affected people.
Again, it can allow them to participate and enjoy the benefits of the digital society, with the same access to information as everyone else has. New technologies enable people with disabilities to act more independently from others and to also have the choice to connect with people around the world, whenever and however they wish.
But the lack of access to formal/non-formal education and digital literacy opportunities undermine the self-confidence, active participation and full integration of persons with disabilities in the society.
In acknowledgement of this reality, the National Information Technology Development Agency (NITDA) organised a training programme for 50 Persons Living with Disabilities (PLWDs) on IT Entrepreneurship held at the Enugu State Technology Hub and Youth Innovation Centre.
Speaking at the programme, Director-General of NITDA, Mallam Kashifu Inuwa, who disclosed that the agency had trained over 750 persons under the initiative, restated its readiness to develop the creative capacity of PLWDs to adopt and use digital technology to achieve social and economic empowerment for themselves, their communities and the country at large.
Kashifu said nurturing entrepreneurship skills and creating the desired social and economic outcomes through the use of ICT among people with special needs is top on NITDA’s agenda, noting that the aim of empowering persons with special needs is for them to acquire ICT skills, digital literacy and its applications to enjoy sustainable relationships with other people, locally and globally.
He explained that the objective of the training is to build the capacities of PLWDs, make them employable and self-reliant in order to have effective economic independence in pursing their livelihoods. It will boost the digital literacy and proficiency of all the participants to efficiently participate in the fast-growing digital economy and entrepreneurial ecosystem.
Similarly, the Minister of Communications and Digital Economy, Dr Isa Pantami, whose vision birthed the initiative, expressed optimism that with access to adequate knowledge, skills and resources, PLWDs can become job employers (digital entrepreneurs), rather than job seekers.
To effectively build the capacity of PLWDs, the government has to provide adequate funding for the Ministry of Communications and Digital Economy and NITDA to regularly organise such training programmes for the affected persons in all states of the federation.
NITDA should liaise with states governments, private sector operators and ICT-focused civil society groups to address digital exclusion, since true innovation and disruption can only be sustained on partnerships that breed the genuine exchange of new ideas and actions from a diversity of stakeholders.
Having persons with and without disabilities collaborate on projects that improve the lives of the PLWDs and solves critical challenges in our environments, will promote inclusion and help everybody appreciate the talents and gifts that all persons/individuals bring with them.
By including people with special needs in the decision-making process, understanding and implementing their honest ideas will go a long way in helping them sustain their independence with skills, critical awareness and opportunities to positively impact their own lives, and the wellbeing of others, thereby creating a happier, inclusive, more connected and productive society.
Inyene Ibanga is Managing Editor Techdigest.ng and writes from Wuye District, Abuja.