Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Adopting ICT for the challenged

In this report REMMY NWEKE stresses the need for the introduction of more Information and Communications Technology (ICT) services that would benefit the challenged group in the society.

Checking out what was wrong with his Global System for Mobile communications (GSM) line or handset, Rotimi Ajaye, an advert production artiste based in Ondo State, recently visited a customer care centre of one of the operators along Oba Adeshida Road, Akure, about 300 kilometers from Lagos.

On getting there, the security men directed him upstairs and while climbing the stairs, he missed a step which resulted into undergoing a clinical operation to correct the damage sustained, penultimate Monday.

Ordinarily, Rotimi did not have problem endorsing the clinical operation to be carried out but insisted it has to be in a Lagos-based private hospital used by the family in Surulere, a Lagos suburb, where his family – a wife and child reside.

Two days later, the trauma Rotimi had to face after the surgery as the process of healing became his companion. At first, he was helped to his bed from the theatre by the staff nurses, but as the days went by the pains continued to increase, which lasted for about a week.

Afterwards, even standing up from the bed soon became an uphill task, let alone standing upright or sitting down at the toilet comfortably required an aid.

One afternoon his wife left him in the care of the nurses to fetch some items needed for his upkeep at the clinic and could not return on time due to traffic holdup along Ikorodu Road in Lagos, before her return, he was under pressure to pass urine.

Unfortunately based on instructions of the chief medical director, Rotimi must use a clinical container to enable them monitor the frequency and quantity of urine passed, hence he needed to call the nurses’ attention anytime he was pressed.

Mobile solutions to the rescue:
So, given the situation he found himself because he was in a private room; there was a non-functional bell and recollecting he has doctor’s GSM as well as the wireless Code Division Multiple Access (CDMA) phone contacts at the hospital reception, about 20 metres away. Rotimi simply reached out to his mobile phone, a Nokia N82 carefully placed under the pillow, searched for the number and quickly placed a call to them.

Few seconds later, Staff Nurse Banke who had answered the call appeared at the door with a smile and apologies. Obviously smiling and offering an apology because she was aware of the non-functioning bell due to lack of public power supply to that part of the country at that moment, unknown to them the alternate batteries have ran out too.

Throughout the one week Rotimi stayed at the hospital until discharged, he was treated basically as a physically challenged person, although temporarily, yet he could not run away from the difficulties facing the challenged group (CG), mostly those who have to endure it throughout their life time.

Another instance worthy of note was while recuperating he received a call from a client who wanted to place an advert in three newspapers within the next 24 hours, Rotimi asked for the advert to be sent to his electronic mail (e-mail) address, from where he could access it electronically and eventually forwarded same to the production contacts of the relevant papers on demand via Universal Serial Bus (USB) internet connection on his laptop with a follow-up phone calls to confirm receipt.

For over one month that Rotimi was bedridden he faced all the difficulties of a challenged person.

Definition of disability:

Defined by an open source-based online encyclopedia, as the lack of ability in relation to a personal or group standard, disability nowadays referred to as ‘challenge’ which gave rise to the latest term, the Challenged Group, involves physical, sensory, cognitive or intellectual impairment, elderly and mental disorder also known as psychiatric disability among various kinds of ailments.

Thus, a disability may occur during a person’s lifetime or at birth, for that reason it is seen as resulting directly from individuals, in which case the focus is typically on aspects of those individuals and how they could function better, that now matters for them and the relatives that cater for them on daily basis.

NCC intervention:
So, it was not startling that the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) through its Consumer Affairs Bureau (CAB) recently put up a one-day session to deliberate on the state of readiness of telecommunications operators across board on how they could deploy services to benefit members of the Challenge Group.

The session, entitled ‘Consultative Forum on Challenged Group (CG)’ saw NCC’s team after listening to the operators’ plans to accommodate the CG, tasked them as matter of urgency to establish disability desks at their customer care centres nationwide.

Giving this charge, Head, CAB at NCC, Mrs. Lolia Emakpore said it would improve the kind of services this kind of group receive at all times and would assist significantly in improving their life, especially the elderly among them. Thus encouraging members of the challenged group to be part of the e-inclusion in the society and mostly in Nigeria, noting that over 25 per cent of the nation’s population are within this group.

Mrs. Emakpore pointed out that by addressing the need of this group using Information and Communications Technology (ICT) services provision like GSM and Internet is critical to achieving the Millennium Development Goals (MDG) in Nigeria among the developing countries of the world in accordance to the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) declaration.

Forgotten in promos & other ICT services:
As well, she advocated for a billing option, for instance on GSM that is favourable to this group, noting that the use of Short Messaging Service (SMS) is discriminatory for some members, especially the blind, even as she asked for special voice call charges, suggesting a slash from about N25 to N20, and pointed out the need to check balances through voice prompt for the blind persons. While industry promotions, mostly since the GSM evolution began seven years ago, have continued to elude the challenged group. She asserted, “Challenged group cannot participate fully in most of these promos.”

According to her, they complained of having difficulties in surfing the Internet and mostly websites of telecom operators as there are rarely voice prompts added to these sites. Particularly, she lamented the non-supportive access to platforms at consumer care centres of the operators and imperativeness to have a register of CG in the country to pave the way for special services to be channeled to them.

“There is need to incorporate teletype systems into service provision by operators,” she said, adding that most CG members do not want to be treated with pity, but like every other persons.

Educational sponsorship and employment opportunity for challenged group, she noted, remained another call for concern, warning “Communication services should not be discriminatory.”

Two state-of-the-art Consumer Centres:
In his remark to the meeting, Executive Vice Chairman (EVC) of NCC, Dr. Ernest Ndukwe, reiterated the need for operators to help out in developing services that would give rise to the challenged group usage of communications devices precisely and ICT in general.

Represented at the occasion by Director, Legal Services at NCC, Mr. Steve Andsenge, Ndukwe said, the commission has advanced plans to launch two state-of-the-art Consumer Centres in Lagos and Abuja to help alleviate the challenges this group pass through mostly at customer care centres in effort to access ICT more so communications. He advised operators to re-organise their care centres to be accessible to the challenged group among other corporate organisations.

Nigerian websites shout-out the blind:
Speaking on website accessibility for the challenged persons, recently, a blind-law student at the University of Lagos (UNILAG), Mr. Joseph Gbulegbe affirmed that most sites in the country were not built or developed to accommodate people like him because they cannot access it by themselves except aided.

Gbulegbe said he heard about the Internet, for instance, but is yet to use it, although aware of the features that could enable visually impaired people like him.

He pointed out that efforts to know what his friends do with Internet and Personal Computers (PC) are essential, but “one has to be taught because, I think what is advisable is that one has his own PC in order to really practice what is being taught.” Although UNILAG included computer studies in the curricular, but for him and his challenged colleagues, they attend to such classes without practical.

ITRealms Online investigations across tens of ICT firms in the country including telecom operators proved that they are yet to become compliant as far as NCC recommendations were concerned. From core Information Technology (IT) firms to those in the communications subsector, nothing seems to have changed, especially for the blind.

Also, ITRealms Online recalls that on December 13, 2006, the United Nations (UN) formally agreed on the ‘Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities,’ to protect, enhance the rights and opportunities of the world’s estimated 265 million disable persons as at mid-2007. Countries that signed up for the convention and its optional protocol totaling 82 and 44 respectively includes Nigeria await ratification and were mandated to adopt national laws to facilitate the inclusion of this group, byway of equal rights to education, employment, and cultural life; the right to own and inherit property; not be discriminated against in marriage and children, to name a few.

Upholding the WSIS declaration:
Above all, there is a need for corporate entities to embrace the calls to structure their service platforms to accommodate the challenged members of the society like Joseph and the earlier that is done the better the hope for an all inclusive society at this time of social re-engineering based on the success achieved with the GSM in the country.

This, hopefully would further receive a boost as the match aimed at fulfilling the MDGs requirements and in accordance with the agenda 13 of the WSIS declaration of principles, which states:

“In building the Information Society, we shall pay particular attention to the special needs of marginalized and vulnerable groups of society, including … recognizing the special needs of older persons and persons with disabilities.”

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