Universal design and assistive technologies for persons with disabilities: the Italian Cooperation partners with Mozambique to explore innovative solutions and tackle the digital divide

Martina Bolognesi, Communication Officer at AICS Maputo

The Maputo Office of the Italian Agency for Development Cooperation, together with the National Institute for the Electronic Government of Mozambique, Eduardo Mondlane University and Oslo Metropolitan University, has recently organized an international conference on Universal Design and Assistive Information and Communication Technologies for the Inclusion of persons with disabilities in Mozambique. The conference had the ambition to share international best practices, take stock of the legal and policy framework and identify opportunities to enhance the social and economic inclusion of persons with disabilities in Mozambique, through access to ICTs. It was the first conference ever held in the African country on these themes.

Estimates suggest that around 80% of persons with disability live in developing countries, where their condition is often associated with poverty, exclusion and marginalization. Access to ICTs offers incredible opportunities for economic and social inclusion, having the potential to make significant improvements in the everyday life of persons with disabilities. Universal design allows re thinking and re shaping technologies with a new design that takes into consideration human diversity, progressively eliminating barriers to accessibility and usability faced by all kind of users. At the same time, assistive technologies represent key tools for persons with disabilities to achieve more independence and wellbeing, allowing for tailor made solutions enhancing their effective inclusion.

Low income, low human capital countries like Mozambique face huge challenges in ICTs accessibility and use, while access to ICTs is particularly challenging in remote areas and for disadvantaged and vulnerable groups including women and girls, old people and persons with disabilities. Recent legal and policy reforms (including the Telecommunications Law approved in 2016 and the Information Society Policy 2018) are opening new opportunities for universal access to ICTs in Mozambique. However, no specific ICTs accessibility data are produced regarding persons with disabilities, which represent 2,6% of the total population according to the last census (2017), while only 26,4% of Mozambicans owns a cell phone and 6,6% has regular access to internet.

Bringing together representatives from the Government, the National Commission for Human Rights, academics, innovators, activists and DPOs, local and international civil society organizations, inclusive media groups and the private sector, the conference has contributed to raise awareness on the status of digital inclusion of persons with disabilities in Mozambique, exploring policy reforms options and innovative solutions to bridge the digital divide. Amongst key results, participants have agreed on the importance of creating an informal multistakeholder group which will take forward the policy discussions: besides advocating for more inclusive legal and regulatory reforms, the group aims at feeding into the new Government planning cycle and to the definition of ICTs accessibility and usability results monitoring frameworks in key sectors.

The conference was held on November 12th, 2019 in parallel with a 72 hour-Hackathon taking place at Eduardo Mondlane University and bringing together innovators and developers working on digital solutions (websites or app) to promote the access of persons with disabilities to vocational training and professional opportunities. Winners of the competition have been awarded with a monetary prize, and the winning solutions will be developed and adopted in the framework of a pilot project financed by the Italian Agency for Development Cooperation, focusing on access to vocational training and employment for young persons with disability in Mozambique.

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