OP-ED: It’s high time that African governments prioritised Deaf-friendly websites
28 September 2023
By Juventus Duorinaah & Timothy Egwelu
Every year on the 28th of September, the world earmarks the International Day of Universal Access to Information. This day aims to raise awareness for the need to expand information related laws and their implementation particular as its related to digital rights.
Digital rights are crucial for ensuring online accessibility and inclusive design for deaf people in Africa. With the advancement of technology, the internet provides endless opportunities to communicate, learn, access information and interact with the world and should be accessible for everyone including the deaf.
According to AbleGamers, 93% of websites in Africa are not accessible to individuals with disabilities. This means that a majority of websites and digital platforms are not designed to accommodate deaf individuals.
Furthermore, the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) also revealed that only 60% of African countries have policies or legislation in place to promote accessibility for persons with disabilities. This highlights the need for stronger regulatory frameworks and enforcement mechanisms that prioritise the rights of deaf individuals and ensure their equal access to digital services.
The absence of online accessibility and inclusive design not only hinders deaf people’s ability to participate fully in the digital world but also denies them their fundamental rights to communication and information. Without proper captioning and sign language insets the deaf community in Africa is left isolated and excluded from the wealth of knowledge and entertainment available online.
Ensuring equal access to digital services and platforms guarantees that deaf individuals can fully participate in the digital world accessing information services and opportunities and re-echo the principle of leave none behind in accordance with the transformative agenda 2030 for Sustainable Development and its Sustainable Development Goals.
Civil society groups have made significant strides in promoting fair access to digital resources for the deaf. We urge state parties to provide text exemptions to support their growth.
Domestic legal frameworks are vital for complying with international obligations like Article 9 of the CRPD which aims to promote and ensure accessibility. Kenya and Uganda for instance recently domesticated this requirement of accessible information with their Persons with Disabilities Acts. These require accessible information and communication technologies.
We call on African leaders and all actors in disability rights to pause, reflect and take action on promoting digital access to information and inclusive design in accordance with the tenet of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) so as to promote full inclusion of deaf people in society. To this end, we would like to re-echo that a clear demonstration of political will coupled with aggressive supervisory on part of state apparatus are crucial to facilitating deaf people’s inclusion in digital spaces.
Juventus Duorinaah is a Professional Law Student, Ghana School of Law, Makola-Accra.
Egwelu Timothy is a lawyer and a Disability policy and inclusion consultant from Uganda.