Africa Forum: Building capacities of visually impaired African students

The 6th Africa Forum, organized by international development partners to empower Africans who are blind and visually impaired, took place in Kampala, Uganda, from 4 to 8 October 2015. “Beyond 2015: Delivering on the Agenda for Persons with Visual Impairment in Africa” was the theme of the Forum, which brought together 400 participants from over 50 countries. The event offered a good opportunity to sensitize participants on the importance of digital inclusion to empower persons with disabilities and the possibilities that it may offer to access information and knowledge.

During the panel discussion on Education and Technology, UNESCO reiterated the potential of information and communication technologies (ICT) to make significant improvements in the lives of persons with disabilities, allowing them to enhance their social and economic integration in communities by enlarging the scope of activities available to them. 

UNESCO also presented examples of its engagement in furthering ICT for the use of people living with disabilities, with specific reference to the project “Promoting the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in Uganda”, funded by the UN Partnership to Promote the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and jointly implemented by UNESCO and UNICEF. The project works towards ensuring that the policy environment in Uganda becomes more conducive for the use of inclusive education and access to information, and foresees also the development of educational material in accessible formats.

Within the framework of UNESCO’s support to digital inclusion in Africa, a series of trainings on accessible publishing and digital inclusion was organized in cooperation with DAISY Consortium. The trainings on web accessibility and inclusive publishing brought together 51 participants from Burkina Faso, Malawi, Morocco, Nigeria, South Africa, South Sudan, Tanzania, Uganda and Zambia. “I am working for a national regulator, and this training helped me to formulate policies and procedures to improve accessibility of government websites,” said one of the participants. Another one stated that the training has helped him to identify more solutions for the visually impaired in web design.  Curriculum developers also highlighted the pertinence of the training saying that the knowledge gained will help them develop reading materials that accessible for the visually impaired.

Two awareness seminars on assistive technology and inclusive publishing were also organized in the framework of the Forum. While the seminar on inclusive publishing provided background information on digital document formats and guidelines for the preparation of inclusive content, the one on assistive technology focused on reading options for the print impaired. This second seminar offered holistic solutions for production, delivery and reading of accessible formats and strategies to make reading devices available at affordable cost.

The innovative use of ICTs for persons with disabilities is part of UNESCO’s actions to enhance the full participation of citizens in the knowledge societies and is funded in Uganda through the UN Partnership to Promote the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.