Categories
Growing the Internet

A Step Further in Making Pakistan Digitally Accessible

In a bid to improve digital accessibility in Pakistan – a country with about 30 million persons with disability (PWDs), according to the World Health Organization –  we recently partnered with the Ministry of IT (MoIT) and the National IT Board (NITB) so that more existing government websites could include accessibility features and future websites could incorporate such designs. We set out to make five websites more accessible – as a start – and are already seeing encouraging results.

According to local study and research paper, a majority of websites in Pakistan, including government, are not accessible for PWDs. PWDs face various challenges in using websites based on their impairment.

For example, persons with visual impairments can face compatibility challenges when screen reader software is used to access visual displays that are not labelled or hyperlinks that do not make sense when read out of context. Those with low vision are not able to access websites that cannot be adjusted for font type and size, contrast, and use of colors, and individuals who are deaf are not able to understand the narration in an online video if it is not properly captioned.

As part of this commitment given by the government, we organized a 3-day training workshop in Islamabad for web developers/administrators (particularly from government departments). The workshop hosted an extensive learning experience environment, using various tools, techniques, and practical demonstrations. David Berman, an expert in accessible communications design, web strategy, analysis, and training, and his team lead the training covering introduction to web accessibility standards, assistive technologies, good design practices, W3C Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (2.0, 2.1) success criteria, auditing models, and how to make accessible documents for websites.

It was the first of such training in Pakistan, and we were not surprised to hear from the participants that they never heard, nor were they familiar with these website accessibility guidelines and practices. The workshop participants took a keen learning interest, calling the workshop as an ice-breaker to enable accessible websites in Pakistan. I recall Muhammad Shafique, who is visually impaired, saying: “the workshop is game-changer. It made government realize that PWDs require equal access to public websites, to feel part of an inclusive digital society. We are already behind many countries in digital accessibility, but as they say it’s never too late.”

We also witnessed some great commitments from the Ministry and NITB senior officials in reference to recently approved Digital Pakistan Policy that lists several policy measures to enable  digital accessibility for PWDs. They labeled the workshop as a beginning towards implementation of Digital Pakistan Policy, gave affirmation to build a digitally accessible environment, and invited open collaboration on similar initiatives.

The workshop has built local resources by training 30 website developers and professionals, who would now put their learning into practice by adding web accessibility features in government websites. They are also expected to train their peers to build further knowledge.

The journey has not been easy, but now that more government websites are poised to become more accessible and more website developers are more aware of the needs of the PWDs, the results convince us that it is right to try to improve digital accessibility in Pakistan! We hope that the government will continue its support towards an accessible Pakistan so that soon PWDs will benefit from information and services available on all public websites.

The Internet is for everyone! Visit the Accessibility Toolkit page to learn how you can contribute to a more accessible Internet and join A11ySIG!

Categories
Growing the Internet

Our Workshop on Web Accessibility in Pakistan – VIPs (Visually Impaired People) and loads of Energy!

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

 

 

 

 

 

Categories
Building Trust Improving Technical Security Internet of Things (IoT) Privacy Technology

Inclusion of Things (IoT): Problem spaces and opportunities for collaboration

The ubiquitous penetration of the Internet driven by rapid advancement of mobile network and software defined networking technology is enabling advanced services by interconnecting (physical and virtual) things. Today, various industries are redesigning their business models and processes along the Internet of Things (IoT) paradigm. To maximize the envisioned social and economic benefits of IoT, issues like interoperability, mashing up data, open platforms, security, privacy and standardization are to be addressed.

The Asia Internet Symposium at Seoul staged a multi-stakeholder debate on the technological and policy perspectives of IoT. The event was organized Internet Society (ISOC) Asia-Pacific Bureau together with ISOC Republic of Korea Chapter, and attended by experts from the ITU, the Ministry of Science, ICT and Future Planning, industry players, academia, and end-user community from South Korea.

The Director General of the Ministry shared the details of an IoT implementation plan under the Digital Planet Strategy 2020. For 2015, the Korean Government is going to provide 1 trillion won in funding to various IT-related industries, including 77.2 billion won ($70 million) for IoT research, development and implementation. The implementation plan touches upon three key areas:

–Creation and expansion of a creative IoT service market

–Fostering global IoT-specialising companies

–Establishing safe, IoT development infrastructure

An interesting five-layer problem space was presented by the Director of the ITU Telecommunication Standardization Bureau consisting of:

– Targeted Things

– IoT Identifiers

– Security, Trust and Privacy

– Implementation

– Globalization

The ITU Director emphasized a single solution to address these problem areas: active engagement and collaboration among all parties participating in the IoT ecosystem.

For the interest of readers, Republic of Korea ranked as second in IDC’s ‘Internet of Things Index’ in 2013, behind the United States. In 2014, the country established a ‘Global Council of Public and Private Sectors for IoT’, along with an ‘IoT Innovation Center’ to improve partnership between software and device manufacturers and businesses.

Speaking at the event, South Korea’s largest mobile operator, SK Telecom, shared their approach towards IoT services together with the launch of “ThingPlug”, an Internet of Things platform to boost the IoT ecosystem. The platform will form the basis of smart city development in the country, allowing developers to build an IoT service or application through a software development kit.

Experts at the event agreed that IoT will present a challenge for establishing an ‘Anyone, Anytime’ Security.  While building trust helps to enhance safety and reduce complexity, quality of information is a requirement for many IoT-based systems.

In the converged world, demarcation between various industries and between standards-developing organizations is blurring. Understanding the distributed nature of the development process is essential for handling security problems, and necessitates a Collaborative Security Approach.  

The event concluded that the success of an ‘Inclusion of Things’ era is only possible through enhanced privacy, building secure IoT devices, reducing the amount of data collected by IoT devices, increasing transparency, offering consumers with a choice to opt-out of data collection, and applying a collaborative approach on a global level.