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Beyond the Net Community Projects Growing the Internet

Tiflolibros digital library for visually impaired in Latin America awarded by UNESCO

Last November in Buenos Aires during the first LAC Regional Internet and Development Dialogue, we had the opportunity to listen to Pablo Lecuona talking about his organisation Tiflonexos.

Tiflonexos is a non-profit that works for the integration of visually impaired people through the creation of an online collaborative free-access library called Tiflolibros. We got to know the organisation in 2014 when they applied for a Community grant through Internet Society. So Nancy Quiros and myself decided to visit their converted apartment in Avenida Corrientes.

Tiflolibros  was created in 1999 by a group of blind friends who wanted to use the power of the Internet to exchange their digital books and widen their access to culture and education. Today it is run by a team of 15 and the library has grown to 52.200 digital books in Spanish available for more than 8.000 members with severe disabilities all over the world.

The Organization contributed to a favourable reform of Argentina’s copyright law in 2007, which was followed by other Latin American countries. On December 2016, they received the UNESCO Prize for Digital Empowerment of Persons with Disabilities.

Pablo Lecuona, founder and director, summarizes his vision of the future in the following points:

  • Increase the use of the library for educational purposes by converting the school books into digital version and training the teachers
  • Reach underserved areas of Latin America where there is less Internet access. And maybe spread to other languages as well
  • Be financially sustainable. At the moment Tiflolibros is depending on donations and grants to get to the end of the month

Braille menu printing for local restaurants is an extra source of revenue for the organisation.

So how can we all make a difference? In my view it all starts with being more aware of the issues and the challenges. 285 million people are estimated to be visually impaired globally. That is more than the whole of Brazil! For example, the Marrakech VIP Treaty made a big difference for the visually impaired in relation to copyright. The Treaty basically requires “Contracting Parties to introduce a standard set of limitations and exceptions to copyright rules in order to permit reproduction, distribution and making available of published works in formats designed to be accessible to visually impaired people, and to permit exchange of these works across borders by organizations that serve those beneficiaries.

When asking Pablo what he would like to change, he said: “80 parties or countries have signed the Treaty but currently only 25 countries or parties have ratified or accessed the Treaty. To facilitate the exchange of knowledge and to enable the creation of equal opportunities we need more countries to sign on.”

For sighted people, it is sometimes difficult to understand the challenges you face as a visually impaired. Personally I was faced with this issue last year when my husband suffered a temporary but severe diplopia (double sight). This lasted for about two months and it was enough to realise that good sight is taken for granted.

Thanks to the Internet a lot of things have been made easier for visually impaired. They can listen to incoming messages and dictate the reply to their phone. They can feel much more independent reading books and working on a computer, but they constantly need to learn new skills.

Tiflolibros offers also technical support and a discussion group where users can join to share their experience and ideas.  We express our appreciation to the project team for their outstanding efforts in giving a better chance to education and social inclusion to impaired people.

It’s not only about the access to the Internet and the library, it is what people can really do and how they can change their lives. It’s all about creating equal opportunities!

The story in their own voices

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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