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 Thursday 21 December at the Sultan Qaboos University under the patronage of Dr. Rahma Al-Mahrooqi, the SQU Deputy Vice Chancellor for Postgraduate Studies & Research. ICTA 2017 is an ALECSO international biannual conference, which has been organized 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 Mr. 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, Mr.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% have legislations protecting the rights of persons with disabilities Vs. 84% worldwide; 58% 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.
Mr.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 organizations. 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 organizations; and, ICT accessibility courses available at major universities in the country (at Sultan Qaboos University).
In terms of actual outcomes, results show across the board for all areas of ICTs very limited outcomes for Persons with Disabilities, in large part due to a general weakness in capacity to implement. 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, Mr. 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, Mr.Leblois noted that there are three “no or little cost” strategies that government can promote with significant positive impact: Involving organizations 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 organizations ensure that they have the skills required among their team to deliver accessible contents and services.
Oman, concluded Mr.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.