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Dhaka Tribune

To be digital is to be inclusive

Bangladesh paves the way for inclusive digital revolution with new accessibility guideline

Update : 08 Sep 2023, 09:38 AM

Bangladesh is making strides towards becoming a smarter nation, building on the achievements of the Digital Bangladesh initiative. 

With a staggering 1720+ government e-services (MyGov), 33,000 national websites with national portal, and an e-learning platform (MuktoPaath) consisting of 200+ courses, the National Intelligence for Skills, Education, Employment and Entrepreneurship (NISE) portal consisting of 5,400+ job of over 2000+ companies etc, the government's vision is to ensure universal access to services for every citizen, 

This includes citizens with disabilities who are most vulnerable and deprived of public and private services. According to the “Report on National Survey on Persons with Disabilities (NSPD) 2021,” approximately 2.80% of the population in Bangladesh has disabilities, though figures may vary across genders, ages, and regions. 

Despite existing data from BBS (Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics) and SID (Statistics and Informatics Division), the World Health Organization (WHO) suggests a higher prevalence of disabilities in the range of 10-15% for Bangladesh. Regrettably, in previous Digital Bangladesh efforts, the needs of persons with disabilities were insufficiently addressed, resulting in their exclusion.

Bangladesh is one of the first 20 countries in the world to sign and ratify the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD). In line with UNCRPD, the government passed the “Persons with Disabilities Rights and Protection Act, 2013” to ensure the rights and overall development of persons with disabilities in Bangladesh where digital inclusion and accessibility have been mentioned in a separate section. 

According to the constitution of Bangladesh, all citizens have the right to enjoy their dignity and fundamental human rights and have social equality. To address the most vulnerable citizens with disabilities such as neurodevelopment, including autism spectrum, the Persons with Neuro-Developmental Disability Trust Act 2013 has been enacted. 

Besides, the government of Bangladesh has also ensured the inclusion of disability in its National Education Policy, National Skills Development Policy, and other policy frameworks, such as Vision 2041, the 8th 5-Year Plan, and the Delta Plan of Bangladesh. 

The National Action Plan on Disability and the Government’s Information and Communication Technology (ICT) Policy (Articles 3 and 4) have also included the issue of accessibility for persons with disabilities in all government and private services to ensure the rights of persons with disabilities. 

The importance of accessibility is not only limited to national commitments but is also very important from various global perspectives. Article-9 of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD) ensures that persons with disabilities enjoy equal access to all information and communication technology-related services like other citizens, and Article-21 encourages to provide the information on the internet in a disability-inclusive manner. 

In addition, all the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) outline integrated service delivery by enabling disability-inclusive services that will help achieve the SDG targets and implement the “Leaving No One Behind” concept. Therefore, considering the political, legal, and global commitments of the government of Bangladesh, all the digital public services need to be disability-inclusive and accessible.

To rectify this, in the pursuit of a Smart Bangladesh, a comprehensive guideline has been established for both public and private entities. The “Digital Service and Web Designing Guideline for Inclusive Accessibility,” crafted by a2i and embraced by the Cabinet Division, stands as a catalyst for inclusive products and services nationwide. 

This endeavour is poised to make a positive transformation in the lives of persons with disabilities by fostering accessible and inclusive digital services, ultimately creating a more equitable and empowered digital society.

Bangladesh's journey towards a more inclusive digital world has taken a significant stride with the adoption of this landmark initiative, led by the ICT Division and adopted by the Cabinet Division with support from a2i, and is a major step towards empowering the country's 16 million persons with disabilities to engage fully in the digital age.

This guideline is all about making websites and digital tools friendly to everyone, including those with disabilities. Following global standards like Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.1, the guideline focuses on five main things: Making and ensuring content is easily perceivable, operable, understandable, robust, and conformant.

Central to the Digital Service and Web Designing Guideline for Inclusive Accessibility is a steadfast emphasis on inclusivity. This emphasis is translated into three distinct levels of conformance:

  1. Mandatory Level A: At this level, the guideline outlines fundamental accessibility requirements that must be met to ensure digital services are accessible to a wide spectrum of users.
  2. Enhanced Accessibility Level - AA: Elevating the standards, this level encompasses higher accessibility criteria that significantly enhance user experiences for all individuals, including those with disabilities.
  3. Exemplary Level - AAA: Representing the pinnacle of accessibility, this tier guarantees an exceptional user experience, leaving no one behind and reinforcing Bangladesh's unwavering commitment to inclusivity.

Inside the guideline, there is a handy checklist and can be a powerful tool for those who make websites and digital services, covering things like providing text options for pictures, offering alternatives for sound and video, making it easy to use a keyboard, and having clear page titles. 

This checklist helps ensure that websites meet the best standards for being accessible and inclusive for all including persons with disabilities.

This guideline shows Bangladesh's dedication to its goals, like Vision 2041, and its commitment to the Persons with Disabilities Rights and Protection Act 2013. By focusing on making things digital and inclusive, Bangladesh is paving the way for Smart Bangladesh by 2041 -- where everyone can be part of the digital world.

Vashkar Bhattacharjee, a person with visual disability , serves as the national accessibility consultant for a2i. He is also involved with YPSA (Young Power in Social Action), an organization for sustainable development, and provides advisory support towards its disability portfolio. He has worked to advance inclusive development and humanitarian action for 19 years.

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