About 76 percent of persons with disabilities (PWDs) in Nigeria do not have mobile phones, while 37 percent do not own smartphones, a report by GSMA indicated.
The Director, Spectrum and Industry Service, SSA GSMA, Kamal Tamawa, further revealed that 63 percent of persons with disabilities were not aware of mobile internet, adding that only seven per cent are likely to use internet.
He explained that there were several barriers leading to mobile disability gaps. According to him, families and caregivers are usually the gatekeepers to mobile ownership by persons with disabilities, adding that accessible handsets, as well as mobile-enabled services, are not available for them. “Persons with disabilities, families, and caregivers do not perceive mobile as being relevant as an assistive technology.
Relevant mobile contents, services, and products are not available. Mobile phones are not perceived as ATs by either person with disabilities or their caregivers. Their awareness of relevant products and services is also low. “Many persons with disabilities do not know how to use a mobile, or the accessibility features “Services are often not accessible, putting at risk the privacy and safe use of mobile by persons with disabilities,” he said.
To support people with disability, Tamawa charged the phone manufacturers and telecoms service providers to build inclusive store designs (access ramp/lift, non-slippery floor material, etc.), provide accessible information about handsets and services to users with disabilities and their caregivers, train agents and staff at the shop-level on how to provide services and support to customers with disabilities, as they might require specific instructions depending on their disability.
He said: Provide accessible information about digital solutions for persons with disabilities and their caregivers that could facilitate their participation in society, support initiatives aiming at developing digital innovations for persons with disabilities, such as grants or acceleration programmes for start-ups and innovators. Design affordable smartphones with in-built screen-readers.
“They should develop and implement accessibility policies that provide access to digital products and services by persons with disabilities to enable their full participation in society, design and offer digital solutions, including mobile phones, with characteristics suitable for different types of persons with disabilities.” He further tasked tech companies to customise accessibility features to make them available in relevant local languages.
He also charged them to engage and develop partnerships with mobile operators or governments to ensure affordable means for supplying mobile products for persons with disabilities, while urging the government to finance programs whereby mobile phones are donated to persons with disabilities.
Meanwhile, the stakeholders said there should be collaboration among equipment manufacturers, mobile network operators, the regulatory body, and all other stakeholders. Earlier, the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) and other telecoms stakeholders had advocated for the right of people living with disabilities as well as the elderly ones.
They made the call during the 92nd edition of the Telecom Consumer Parliament (TCP) held in Lagos. According to them, there are some rights that disadvantaged people are supposed to enjoy from telecom services but which they are denied. For instance, they claimed that each mobile network operator was supposed to have sign language experts as customer care agents who can attend to the deaf on video calls on their complaints.