New push to remove barriers to digital accessibility for PWDs

Fodé Ndiaye (left) and Minister Rurangirwa at the event in Kigali on Monday. Diane Mushimiyimana.

Software developers have been urged to promote digital inclusiveness by mainstreaming special needs of people with disability (PWDs) in applications they develop.

The Minister for ICT, Jean de Dieu Rurangirwa, said digital applications can also be designed to specifically address the needs of PWDs, to help them be more independent in their daily lives.

“There are many digital tools out there, including mobile built-in apps which have plenty of solutions to ease the lives of PWDs, but the majority are not aware of them or some can’t afford such technology. There are incentives already in place but we can do more,” said the minister.

He was speaking at a public gathering dubbed the ‘Social Good Summit’, organised by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in in collaboration with the University of Kigali.

Held under the theme; ‘Leave no one behind in the digital age’, the summit aimed at examining the impact of technology and new media on initiatives around the world meant to improve social welfare.

It brought together government officials, representatives of UN agencies, and staff and students from the University of Kigali, among other stakeholders.

Rurangirwa added that with more collaboration with the Council for Persons with Disabilities and their associations, they would make an in-depth assessment of existing challenges and collectively see how policy frameworks can be improved to cater for their needs.

Dr Betty Mukarwego, a lecturer for the visually impaired at University of Rwanda’s College of Education, said that due to limited digital inclusion, people with disabilities people are still experiencing many challenges.

“Every service in Rwanda is going digital; recruitment and many other opportunities have been digitalised. The visually impaired without the right software (which majority can’t afford) are excluded from such services,” she said.

Mukarwego is also the women chairperson for Rwanda Union of Blind (RUB).

Meanwhile, Fodé Ndiaye, UN Resident Coordinator, said that PWDs often face barriers that restrict them from participating in society on an equal basis, including the access to, and use of, information and communication technologies (ICTs).

“There is a need for more collaboration between government, private sector, the civil society and other agencies to see how every digital policy framework and implementation is aligned to the special needs of PWDs,” he said.

He added that the UN was looking forward to more platforms to bridge existing gaps, especially in introducing measures aiming at improving accessibility to local online services and relevant digital applications for PWDs.

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