ICT and Disabilities
Much confusion surrounds thetreatment of disabilities in South Africa – both from a legislative point ofview and in practice. Zain Bulbulia summarises the provisions built into thelaw of the land.
The Department of Communications outlinedits strategic vision in the 1996 White Paper on Telecommunication Policy. As aresult of this policy, disability provisions are incorporated in alllegislation governing the ICT sector, including telecommunications,broadcasting, postal and internet and computer services.
By way of illustration, theElectronic Communications Act No 36 of 2005 provides a framework for themainstreaming of disability within the ICT sector by addressing the issue atvarious levels.
For example, Section 2 outlines theobjects of the Act in reference to the needs of the persons with disabilitiesin the provision of telecommunication services in terms of the need to promote:
- universal provision of electronic communications networks and electronic communicationsservices for all;
- an environment of open, fair and non-discriminatory access to electroniccommunication networks and to electronic communications services; and
- the empowerment of historically disadvantaged persons, including opportunities forpeople with disabilities.
This section of the Act alsocontains a provision intended to ensure that broadcasting services andelectronic communications services, viewed collectively, are provided bypersons or groups of persons from diverse backgrounds.
Similarly, Section 3 gives theMinister powers to make policies on matters of national policy applicable tothe ICT sector in respect of universal service and access, the country’sobligations under international treaties and conventions, and availingunder-serviced areas with the benefits of electronic communications.
In respect of internationaltreaties and so forth, and in accordance with this part of the Act, theDepartment of Communications is a member of series of international bodies andhas been actively involved in their activities. These include the InternationalTelecommunications Union, whose task it is, among others, to facilitatestandardisation in the telecommunications sector.
In fact, the Department hosted theWorld Telecommunications Standards Assembly in South Africa in October 2008. Animportant element on the agenda was accessibility, which featured indiscussions and covered important aspects of catering for disabilities. TheDepartment is also a member of the Universal Postal Union and the World Summiton Information Society and Development Agenda.
The EC Act outlines a framework forthe establishment of structures intended to facilitate the universal serviceand universal access in the provision of telecommunication services in thecountry.
Indeed, section 36 of the Act gives a mandate to theIndependent Communications Authority of SA (ICASA) to develop technicalstandards for equipment and electronic communications facilities while Section70 gives the Authority a mandate to prescribe regulations setting out a code onpeople with disabilities that is applicable to all categories of licences.
In accordance with this, ICASA developed and published aCode on People with Disabilities in 2001.
The Broadcasting Act No 4 of 1999 (section 2) also featuresspecific reference to disability: “the object of the Act is to establish anddevelop a broadcasting policy in the Republic in the public interest and forthat purpose to – (e) caters for a broad range of services and specifically forthe programming needs in respect of children, women, the youth and thedisabled”.
The specialized needs of the disabled are also catered forin the Electronic Communications & Transactions (ECT) Act of 2002. Itstipulates the following goals:
- to promote universal access primarily in under servicedareas;
- ensure compliance with accepted international technicalstandards in the provision and development of electronic communications andtransactions; and
- ensure that, in relation to the provision of electronictransactions services, the special needs of particular communities and areasand the disabled are duly taken into account. However, legislation alone cannotsatisfy the highly specialized needs of the disabled. Action needs to be takenand government is at the forefront of efforts to firstly make ICT available topeople with disabilities, and secondly, to integrate those people into theworkings and infrastructure of government.
Part of this is creating public awareness of the issue.Since 2000, the DoC has been involved in a series of public awarenessactivities and the commemoration of both national and international events suchas the World Postal Days, World Telecommunications Day, the World Summit onInformation Society and development of these events and what they mean.
The Department hosted workshops to engage the sector on theneeds of the disabled during the planning stages for the World Summit onInformation Society.
It also partners with other stakeholders, community-basedorganisations, disabled peoples’ organizations, the ICT sector and others toensure an inclusive environment giving all sectors an opportunity to understandthe benefits of using ICTs.
Since the start of the consultative process on theConvention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, government hasparticipated in discussions and contributed to the cause. Through the DoC,government is working on development of a disability and ICT strategy to ensureimplementation within the ICT sector.
Private and public sector organizations are welcome toparticipate in this process. They can use the DoC consultative workshops inorder to do so and they can look at opportunities presented by the ICT Charterin terms of empowering people with disabilities.
Indeed, much more should be done to address the challengesin this regard – both in the corporate world and in government.
The latter, for example, should increase its engagement withorganizations representing people with disabilities and special schoolscatering for persons with disabilities.
- In addition to these measures, the state should:
- Engage the private sector on the introduction ofsponsorships;
- Increase bursaries and internship programmes targetinglearners with disabilities;
- Introduce incentives (eg tax reprieves, reductions,etc.) for private sector organizations that employ the disabled; and
- Introduce funding schemes within the current structuresof the DTI scheme that targets entrepreneurs with disabilities and assists themwith developing their business plans.
Private and public sector organizations should look atopportunities presented by the ICT Charter in terms of empowering people withdisabilities.
(ICASA) Independent Communications Authority of South Africa
ICASA is mandated to exercise regulatory and enforcement functions to ensure the issues of access and compliance with policy and regulations and codes within the ICT sector.
(NEMISA) National Electronic Media Institute of South Africa
NEMISA’s role is to contribute to skills development in the ICT sector, specifically in the broadcasting environment.
(PNC on ISAD) Presidential Commission on Information Society and Development
Set up in 2001 to provide timely and informed advice to the President on technology matters and to facilitate the development of an inclusive information Society. A series of public workshops has been hosted with stakeholders, including the private sector, community-based organizations, government departments, youth and disabled peoples’ organisations, and traditional and religious communities. The result of these is the Information Society and Development National Plan.
Developed the National Accessibility Portal (NAP) as a project intended to enhance the development and independence of persons with disabilities. This will be achieved through the creation of a highly innovative and efficient information and communication system. The NAP will enable people with different disabilities to access information and services, and to interact and communicate irrespective of age, gender, language and level of literacy. The system is based on Internet technologies and uses open source software to provide affordable alternatives. It is aligned with the strategy of the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD) and with the Africa Decade of Persons with Disabilities (1999 to 2009) goal to empower persons with disabilities in Africa.