Kenya’s First Lady Margaret Kenyatta has called for Enhanced Digital Inclusion For Persons With Disabilities so as to eliminate technological barriers that prevent them from accessing services.
Speaking when she delivered the keynote address at the opening of the inaugural virtual Inclusive Africa Conference on October 8 2020, Kenyatta said the need for digital solutions has been amplified by the Covid-19 pandemic.
She added that this has made it necessary for people, communities and businesses to rely on access to the internet, smart technology and online services to survive.
“Most affected by the pandemic have been vulnerable, blind and visually impaired persons who, due to their circumstances, have faced multiple forms of digital exclusion such as lack of computer assistive technology, inaccessible websites or online content,” the First Lady noted.
The inaugural conference attracted over 1000 participants from across Africa.
The conference was organized by inABLE, a non governmental organization based in Kenya and the United States of America, that has been running programs to assist children with visual disability for the last 10 years.
The First Lady emphasized the need to scale up digital access and inclusion by adopting regional and global best practices to ensure young people with disabilities are not left behind in contributing to Kenya’s development.
She expressed concern that digital services and products that fully cater for the needs of persons with disabilities including the blind and visually impaired were still lacking in many areas.
“This is a concern for many other African countries because the dialogue around digital inclusion is only just emerging,” she said.
The First Lady commended the country’s Ministry of ICT, Innovation and Youth Affairs for its recent launch of a new inclusive National Information, Communication and Technology Policy that prioritizes access and inclusion of technology for persons with disabilities.
“This new policy is a significant step in the development of new standards for digital accessibility and I look forward to its implementation,” the First Lady said.
Kenyatta also called for more investment in interventions that serve children with disabilities so as to equip them with modern technological capabilities from an early age.
“It is my hope that digital solutions and best practices will be adapted for easy access and affordability across Africa; and that more investment will be allocated towards education and digital training and employment of youth with disabilities,” the First Lady said.
She implored the conference participants to explore ways of supporting and encouraging ambitious youth like Anthony Wambua from Machakos County who is studying to become Kenya's first blind computer programmer.
ICT Principal Secretary Jerome Ochieng, who also spoke at the conference, outlined the initiatives the Government is implementing to ensure digital inclusivity.
The Principal Secretary singled out Government’s installation of over 9000 kilometres of fibre optic cable connecting all counties and sub-county headquarters as one of the measures taken to boost digital accessibility.
Haben Girma, the first deaf-blind person to graduate from Harvard Law School and currently a disability rights lawyer and activist shared a moving and inspiring story of her life’s journey.
Others who spoke during the opening segment of the two-day virtual conference included Irene Mbari-Kirika, the Executive Director of inABLE, and Rama Gheerawo, the Director of the London-based Helen Hamlyn Centre for Design.