The Kenya Bureau of Standards [KEBS] in partnership with inABLE, a non-governmental organization, has commenced the development of first ever national ICT accessibility standards to bridge the existing digital divide in the country.
KEBS Chief Manager for Standards Development Zacharia Lukorito said the new standards would ensure Persons Living with Disabilities (PWDs) and older persons who have faced challenges of accessing digital products and services have equal and easy access to both government and private sector online platforms.
Lukorito said the government would work closely with other partners to develop up-to-date standards that meet global requirements and which are aimed at addressing the existing gaps in digital inaccessibility in a wide range of disabilities including visual, auditory, physical, speech, cognitive, language, learning, and neurological among others.
He said the standards which would be complete in six months’ time would address issues of procurement of digital products and gadgets such as smartphones, laptops, computer displays and also the development of inclusive software, websites, mobile money platforms and mobile applications that make it easier for PWDs to access digital products and services.
Lukorito said the need to develop the standards have been accelerated by the Covid 19 pandemic which shifted most of government and private services online including virtual meetings, working from home, homeschooling, sharing of public health updates among others which saw millions disconnected especially the disabled.
“Kenya will be the first country in Africa to develop ICT accessibility standards and will set the pace for inclusion of Persons with Disabilities to have equal access to digital services and products,” said Lukorito. “This will be in line with the ICT policy enacted in 2019”, he added.
Speaking during a consultative stakeholders’ meeting in Naivasha, the manager added that once finalized, the new standards would allow for government and private procurement departments to integrate them in their tendering processes to ensure every citizen has equal access in the digital space.
According to inABLE Founder and Director Irene Kirika, 30 per cent of Persons Living with Disability were unable to access digital products and services before the Covid 19 pandemic due to unavailability of gadgets and lack of integrated systems that make it easier for them to access online materials and services as most of work shifted online.
Kirika challenged the policy makers, regulators, business owners and procurement teams to provide digital services and products that provide an equal level – playing field for all, which promote privacy, independence and freedoms for the disabled.
The director said the organization together with KEBS would partner with other relevant agencies including the National Council of People Living with Disabilities, Communications Authority, ICT Authority and other experts to draft all-inclusive standards.
By Erastus Gichohi and Esther Mwangi