Digital inclusion: e-accessibility policy and toolkits - United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia
25 August 2021

Beirut time


Digital inclusion: e-accessibility policy and toolkits

ADIP Coverpage
  • Online

Although Arab countries are increasingly committed to realizing the rights of persons with disabilities, those in the Arab region are still among the most marginalized population groups, facing multiple barriers to participation in society. While the information and communications technology sector in the Arab region has significantly developed over the last few years, the role that digital technologies can play promoting equal accessibility and building more inclusive societies has not been sufficiently harnessed.

To advance e-accessibility in the Arab region, ESCWA launched the Arab Digital Inclusion Platform (ADIP) project to support policymakers in developing their national policies and guidelines. In this workshop, the final versions of the templates were reviewed, in addition to the interactive tools developed by ESCWA for supporting policymakers in the Arab region through the ADIP online platform prototype.

Outcome document

During the workshop, participants expressed several recommendations:

  1. Emphasize the importance of continuation of ESCWA ADIP project and its activities aiming at promoting digital accessibility in the Arab countries, narrowing the digital divide and building inclusive societies.
  2. Confirm the necessity of improving digital accessibility in the Arab region (as a means of achieving the Sustainable Development Goals) through knowledge sharing and capacity building, and encourage the participation of Arab countries in these initiatives that place citizens and mainly people with disability at the centre of their development concerns and efforts, towards attaining sustainable economic growth, alleviating poverty and increasing prosperity.
  3. Affirm the importance of designing national e-accessibility policies, and developing the needed technical requirements in the field of digital accessibility, as well as the use of the ESCWA templates and the interactive toolkits that provide policymakers and users multiple scenarios to develop their policy drafts and technical guidelines for implementation.
  4. Call for better involvement of persons with disabilities in the formulation, implementation and evaluation of national e-accessibility policies, recommendations and regulations, following the principle of “nothing about us without us”.
  5. Increase awareness and build capacity on e-accessibility concepts and technical tools among both policymakers and technical experts in the Arab region, for better adoption of the main principles that directly enhance digital accessibility.

Mr. Haidar Fraihat, senior advisor on technology and innovation, opened the workshop and welcomed the participants. He started by stating that when computers began their work in the early eighties and nineties, the main concern in the world and specifically in the United Nations was the eradication of computer illiteracy among all and the delivery of devices, communications and the internet to cities, villages and remote areas, and this happened. He added that the digital divide requires more work, in parallel to efforts towards bridging other recognized gaps emerged in the United Nations, which include knowledge divide, and inequalities in society between marginalized groups. In order to deal with these gaps, many efforts must be made, on top of them is inclusion, which covers digital, financial and technological inclusion to enhance social and economic development.

Mr. Fraihat added that the Arab Digital Inclusion Platform (ADIP) project was launched in the year 2020. This platform focuses on the inclusion of people with disabilities and how to integrate and include them into society through the use of digital technologies. He added that based on his knowledge in the field of statistics, people with disabilities is a very important percentage that cannot be ignored. He explained that the ADIP has sub-tools, such as the national policies for inclusion and toolkits of national guidelines for digital accessibility, and this is what the discussion will focus on in this workshop.

Aiming at supporting policy makers in the Arab counties to develop/improve their national policies and guidelines for enhanced e-Accessibility, Ms. El Hajj Barbar presented the project’s guiding principles, including the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD), the United Nations Disability Inclusion Strategy (UNDIS), and the Beirut Consensus on Technology for Sustainable Development in the Arab Region.

She explained the cumulative change approach adopted to plan and manage the ADIP project, taking into consideration three main pillars: 1) situational analysis, development of tools, products, and policy recommendations required, 2) defining and strengthening partnerships while assuring the participation of all stakeholders, establishing or reaching consensus among stakeholders to accept and approve proposed suggestions in an inclusive approach, 3) disseminating, making use of the products and policy recommendations, and providing support for better implementation.

Ms. El Hajj Barbar presented the project implementation strategy and upcoming activities, including the Regional Training of Trainers (ToT) workshop on the use and adaptation of the ESCWA templates and interactive tools on digital accessibility, the national capacity-building workshops and the advisory services that ESCWA will provide to member countries to support the development and implementation of their national policies and/or technical guidelines related to digital accessibility. In addition, she highlighted the close collaboration with the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) to convene the “”Accessible Arab Region: ICT for ALL”” event as a regional knowledge development platform for ICT accessibility topic that aims to support member States and regional stakeholders in their implementation efforts by sharing good practices and challenges, and offering networking and partnership opportunities to facilitate the development of digitally inclusive societies.

Mr. Mohamad Nawar Alawa, Regional Adviser on Technology for Development, presented the National e-accessibility Policy Template for the Arab Region, developed by ESCWA under the ADIP project, with the aim to provide policymakers with a general framework for a national policy to support enabling access for persons with disabilities to ICTs and public services towards a more inclusive society. Mr. Alawa focused on the idea of enabling persons with disabilities to live independently and fully participate in all aspects of life. He explained the status of e-accessibility in the Arab region in general where some countries made important progress in e-accessibility and some others still need to strengthen their efforts in this domain. He also highlighted the advanced status of Qatar and Oman in e-accessibility score not only at the regional level, but also at the global level. He also explained that there are.

Mr. Alawa illustrated the pillars of the e-accessibility national policy by focusing on the legislative power through making laws, the executive authority through setting policies and assigning a supervisory authority to implement them, and other stakeholders , such as the role of Organizations of Persons with Disabilities (OPDs) in integrating the needs of people with disabilities, and the role of media in helping promoting e-accessibility.

Mr. Alawa then introduced the components that are integrated in the interactive toolkit on e-accessibility national policy. He noted that digital accessibility aims to ensure that persons with disabilities can access services and information available on ICT platforms and equipment on an equal basis with others. This includes removing barriers to accessing and using ICT products, services and applications. He added that if these technologies are not fully available and Accessible, they might become tools of exclusion of certain population groups by establishing new barriers. He then showed an example of a national mandate and the related vision component, through an example from the UAE experience. Furthermore, he highlighted the remaining components of the template and how they are considered in the interactive toolkit on e-accessibility national policy. He then explained the importance of having a governance model to supervise the proper implementation and compliance of the e-accessibility national policy. He also focused on the monitoring and evaluation by tracking the results of the progress achieved, in addition to the periodic review of activities and statistics.

Ms. El Hajj Barbar presented the national technical guidelines on e-accessibility for the Arab region, developed by ESCWA under the ADIP project. She focused on some key messages, which include encouraging policy makers to adopt technical guidelines for digital accessibility to enable all individuals to efficiently access ICT devices, services, and applications, and suggesting models for digital accessibility.

Ms. El Hajj Barbar showcased the e-accessibility implementation levels at the global level according to DARE index for the year 2020 and 2018. With focus on the MENA region and selected Arab countries. She also described the challenges faced by Arab countries in implementing digital accessibility and presented some available opportunities.

Then, she illustrated the ESCWA toolkits for e-accessibility, that address some ICT accessibility issues including web and mobile accessibility, bank automated teller machines and others. She added that these guidelines serve as basis for ICT hardware and software procurement and the templates need to be revised periodically to include the updated versions of the standards.

Ms. Lize Denner, Associate Programme Management Officer, presented the ADIP online platform, its structure and main sections. She highlighted the resources page that can be considered as a hub, where user interested in information and knowledge related to disability can access it and select between ESCWA publications or Member State documents, which include policies, laws and regulations. She also highlighted the other sections, such as the IGED private space dedicated to IGED members to work together. Ms. Denner wrapped up her presentation by stating that the platform is completely accessible and has research facilities and keyword searches. She added that the team is ready to get any suggestions concerning this point. Finally, she mentioned that the platform is available in English and Arabic.

Ms. Sumaya Al Majthoob, Associate Social Affairs Officer, quickly focused more in her presentation on the IGED forum. She explained that the IGED is a group of communication between ESCWA member states and government authorities involved in the disability subjects. She stated that this space is reserved for these members who can use it only through user name and password. She shared the features of the forum, including the IGED forum, Events, and Documents. She also stated that the user can use the toolbar-integrated features, and can download documents, share events, make discussions related to IGED group, and add comments.

Ms. Zeina Assi, ESCWA Intern, presented the integrated toolbar for accessibility, which is an essential part of ADIP platform; it helps to provide easy access to functionality to a variety of aspects of the webpage. The most important feature added is the text-to-speech controls, so ADIP platform is fully accessible on any device, even if no screen reader is already installed. Ms. Assi described also the whole process behind making the ADIP fully accessible, including the content adaptation of all resources. In this context, she explained the approach adopted to add layers of headings, lists, alternative texts for images and tables to reach an accurate result. Then, she presented some examples and scenarios of alternative texts from a simple one to a more detailed one. She mentioned that ESCWA team developed many scenarios that were tested with people with disabilities, in order to select the best that meets the user’s expectations and needs.

Mr. Hasan Arous, ESCWA consultant, presented the interactive toolkits developed under the ADIP platform to facilitate the use of the ESCWA e-accessibility policy and technical templates. He highlighted the three policy toolkits that are National Policies Comparative Matrix Tool, Policy Maker Assistant Tool and Exercise Sheets Tool. Then he presented the different scenarios provide for the technical toolkits, including, Websites Minimum Critical Criteria Tool, Mobile Accessibility Tool, Public Access Terminals and Smart Cards Accessibility Tool and Procurement of ICT Products and Services Tool.

Mr. Ali Darwish, Bahrain, asked if candidates nominated for the planned training of trainers workshop and the national workshops will be from each institution or each country. Ms. El Hajj Barbar said that the nominations could be from several institutions and stressed on the importance of a Multi-stakeholder national working group. Ms. El Hajj Barbar noted that there is cooperation with two main groups, a group working within the framework of technology for development, and a group concerned with developing and improving the situation of people with disabilities in the region. She mentioned that this cooperation should be required in the development of any national plans.

Participants asked whether the presentations and the link of the workshop will be shared and if there are any requirements or specifications for the trainers. They asked if the institutions should begin to nominate candidates for the training of trainers, or they should wait to receive an invitation. Ms. El Hajj Barbar answered that all the presentations and the link of the workshop will be shared. She also mentioned that suggestions from the participants for developing an advanced version of ADIP platform is essential and should be sent in a week.

Mr. Ali Alamri, Oman, asked about the preparation of accessibility audit reports, for example, if an evaluation is done for a website, a technical report should be prepared listing the elements that need modification. He added that the guidelines provide an overview of the requirements, but among the challenges faced is that most webmasters or developers do not read the technical instructions; they only need steps to adjust. Mr. Alawa answered Mr. Alamri that there are many free tools available that can be used to measure compliance with the WCAG standard exclusively. But the team can think of the final or updated version of ADIP platform by putting in place a mechanism to measure the compatibility.

32. Ms. Nesreen Harahsheh, Jordan, asked if it is possible to measure the extent of compatibility with the standards of accessibility for persons with disabilities on government smartphone applications. She also wanted to know how these portals can be developed for persons with disabilities, taking into consideration colour contrast, voice reader compatibility, or the use of indicative symbols regarding sign language and other tools. Mr. Arous answered that smartphone application testing is complicated; however, it is easier to test web applications on mobile phones because there is a unified language. As for mobile applications, there are many different tools that create a software architecture and it is difficult to test them automatically, but the good thing is that manual testing does not require a lot of know-how. Ms. Harahsheh added that in Jordan, they are currently working on the idea of making the Jordanian e-government portal accessible to persons with disabilities. Because of the mobility feature that characterizes mobile applications, a person with a disability finds it easier if he/she can access through his/her mobile phone rather than through the website. She asked if ESCWA could consider cooperating with member states, because mobile phone access is practically better, even if it is technically more difficult. She added that an exercise has been done with the relevant authorities, and they found that they welcome any portal that implements them via mobile phone. She asked if ESCWA could make a recommendation to include this idea. Ms. El Hajj Barbar added that they are very interested in this idea and ready for consultation and dialogue to explore future cooperation with Jordan and other interested countries.

Mr. Alawa showcased the future steps to be considered in the project. He presented the project implementation plan and activities and focused on four main activities: First, a regional Training of Trainers workshop (ToT) on the use and adaptation of the ESCWA templates and interactive toolkits on national policy and technical guidelines for e-accessibility. Second, the national capacity building workshops on the use and adaptation of the ESCWA toolkit/templates. Third, the advisory services to member countries, to support the development and implementation of national policies and/or technical guidelines related to e-accessibility. Fourth, the regional joint event between ESCWA and ITU on “Accessible Arab Region””.

He stressed on the importance of cooperation among all stakeholders as key partners in the implementation of the above mentioned activities. He also stressed on the importance of cooperation with the national institutions through the nomination of national focal points to follow up on the different phases during the project activities implementation period.


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