December 17th was an all special day here in Islamabad when the ISOC Asia-Pacific Bureau in partnership with BytesforAll Pakistan organized a half-day workshop on “web accessibility” in Islamabad, inviting persons with disabilities to share their accessibility requirements, identify issues / challenges and highlight the barriers that limits them from interacting with the Internet and the World Wide Web. Some 19 million people in Pakistan have some form of disability – roughly 10% of the whole population.
The workshop hosted 22 persons with visual, 4 with hearing and 3 with physical impairment, all affirming one common demand of ‘inclusivity’. They all emphasised the opportunities the Internet can provide for them to be independent and to contribute to society and to their socio-economic development. They were Journalist, Teachers, Website developers, Mobile Application developers, Scholars and Professionals.
During the workshop, Mr. Muhammad Shabbir, a PhD student and a visually impaired person presented his issue paper on ‘The state and potential of web accessibility for persons with disabilities in Pakistan’. The paper was prepared as part of this workshop, and details the current status and the gaps in web accessibility in Pakistan. The paper also features an ‘accessibility’ audit of the top 12 visited websites in Pakistan (as per alexa.com). A large proportion of websites by the Government, Telecommunication Industry, Universities and Media are not accessible to people with visual and hearing disability. Muhammad Shabbir stressed on implementing standards, policies and regulations to promote web accessibility in Pakistan.
We also had Ms. Saima Awan, a web developer and a visually impaired person delivering a practical demonstration on www.beyondourvision.com; a website that is run and managed by her. She shared essential consideration for web developers while coding their websites, and different tools, techniques and features that would escalate ‘accessibility’ of their website content for people with special needs.
Our roundtable panelists included four persons with visual and one with hearing impairment, replying to questions on web accessibility, challenges they face and actions required to break the barriers.
In his closing remarks, Dr Shah, the Chairman of Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA), appreciated the efforts of the organizers for highlighting the subject of web accessibility, which he said appeared to be rarely taken into consideration locally. He stated, “I am honored to be part of this because it taught me several things that will be worked on in the near future. I believe learning never stops and PTA is going to try its best to play a role in software development and work with telecoms to make websites more accessible”.
We look forward to a follow-up workshop in 2016 that will bring together other stakeholders to discuss this issue further and work towards solutions that will help ensure “the Internet is for Everyone”.
Photos of the workshop are available at: https://isoc.box.com/s/c4ch98fn5teisl70kimr8c3qz5apkroa
Workshop Storify link: https://storify.com/arsalanashraff/web-accessibility-workshop-by-bytesforall-and-isoc