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How Kenya's ICT Accessibility Standards can create more inclusive workplaces

Opinion
 A voter in a wheelchair is assisted to cast his vote at Getumo Kemoreko polling center in Bomachoge Borabu Kisii County on August 9, 20222. [Sammy Omingo, Standard]

As the world observes the International Day of Persons with Disabilities in 2023, Kenya emerges as a pioneer in fostering inclusivity by adopting a groundbreaking national standard for information and communication technology (ICT) accessibility. Kenya has become one of the first countries in Africa to gazette such standards, solidifying its commitment to ensuring that ICT products and services cater to the needs of persons with disabilities, older individuals, and other users who benefit from accessibility features.

The standard, known as Kenya Standard KS 2952-1-2:2022, was gazetted in May 2022 and it aims to ensure that ICT products and services are designed to meet the needs of persons with disabilities, older individuals, and other users who benefit from accessibility features. By implementing this standard, organizations can create more inclusive workplaces that respect the diversity and dignity of their employees and customers.

KS 2952-1-2:2022 covers various ICT domains such as web content, software applications, hardware devices, telecommunications, and multimedia. It also aligns with international standards and best practices. The standard was developed by a collaborative working group involving stakeholders from government, academia, industry, civil society, and persons with disabilities.

inABLE, a non-governmental organization dedicated to empowering persons with disabilities through assistive technology and digital skills training, played a pivotal role in the development of these accessibility standards. The standards, freely accessible on the inABLE website, are intended for use by ICT producers, service providers, procurers, regulators, users, accessibility experts, consultants, and testers.

The standards aimed to address the lack of accessibility faced by students with disabilities upon graduating from high school. These comprehensive accessibility standards are designed to ensure inclusivity across various sectors of the economy, including education, workspace, and opportunities.

The standard also places particular emphasis on websites, requiring them not only to be navigable but also considerate of individuals with visual impairments or blindness. For instance, audio versions of articles or articles written in a format that is accessible to screen readers, a software program that allows blind and low vision individuals to read the content on a computer screen with a voice synthesizer or braille display.

These standards are poised to benefit the wider public, with a focus on creating content that demonstrates how to access this information. The decision to make these standards freely available aligns with inABLE’s mission to establish accessibility as a right for all, not just a privilege for those who can afford it.

The launch of these standards marked a significant milestone in the history of ICT accessibility in Kenya and Africa. It is anticipated that these standards will inspire other countries and regions to adopt similar measures, contributing to the global movement towards a more accessible and inclusive digital world. As Kenya celebrates this achievement on the International Day of Persons with Disabilities, it sends a powerful message of progress and inclusivity to the world.

According to the latest data from DataReportal, Kenya had 50.95 million internet users as of January 2022, representing 91.1 per cent of the total population. However, only 13.5 per cent of internet users had some form of disability, according to the 2019 census. This indicates a gap in digital inclusion that needs to be addressed by implementing the ICT accessibility standards.

The standards also have the potential to boost the economic and social development of Kenya, as ICT accessibility can enhance the productivity, employability, and quality of life of persons with disabilities and older individuals. According to a study by the World Bank, improving ICT accessibility could increase the GDP of low- and middle-income countries by up to 7 per cent. Moreover, ICT accessibility can foster social inclusion and participation, as well as human rights and dignity, for persons with disabilities and older individuals.

The goal is to make a website easy to use for everyone, not just about the technical details. It’s about how you arrange, organize, design, and make the website work well to make digital spaces that are friendly and helpful for everyone, not just because you have to, but because you care. This has to be entrenched in the organization’s DNA.

There are plans to make these standards work for all of Africa, not just Kenya. We are working with African Organizations for Standardization (ARSO) to make this happen. We want to create a marketplace where everyone can share their ideas, products, and services without any problems. We want to make a place where everyone can join in. ARSO is a regional organisation that harmonises and promotes African standards in various fields.

George Siso is the Business Development Manager at inABLE, a non-governmental organization dedicated to empowering persons with disabilities through assistive technology and digital skills training

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