How can we in the tech community work together to create an accessible environment to train and employ more people with disability?
With more people actively participating in the digital economy, it is vital to acknowledge that persons with disabilities still face disparities in digital spaces. This situation limits their ability to practice their digital rights. A people-centric Internet is one in which people from all parts of the community, including persons with disability, can be actively engaged.
This means more than just being able to use a more accessible Internet, but also opportunities to successfully be employed in the sector.
This topic was discussed at a recent session at APrIGF 2022: Inclusion of persons with disabilities in the ICT Job Sector.
The panel comprised speakers from the technical community, civil society, and academia. Representatives from the APNIC Foundation (Sylvia Cadena), APNOG/APRICOT (Philip Smith), Tetra Tech (Georgina Naigulevu), the Employer’s Federation of Ceylon (Manique Gunaratne), and the Internet Society’s Accessibility Standing Group (Gunela Astbrink, and I) all participated. Together we held an hour-long discussion regarding the global efforts toward making inclusion possible in the ICT job sector.
Measuring the gap
The discussion revealed that while many organizations across the globe are doing tremendous work in this space, there still seems to be a significant gap between the efforts and the outcomes; the efforts are not necessarily translating into ICT-related job opportunities for persons with disabilities. This calls for a close examination of those efforts, understanding where they originate from and whether they are a true reflection of the current predicaments that persons with disabilities face when looking for a job in ICT.
APRICOT and the APNIC Foundation have both worked to provide inclusive frameworks for training, fellowships, and employment, in an effort to create a situation where equal opportunities are given to persons with disabilities. However, very few applications are ultimately received.
This suggests challenges involving awareness about the jobs available for persons with disabilities in the Internet industry. There are also other gaps that need to be addressed.
Some of these problems could stem from the fact that advocacy for the inclusion of persons with disabilities is not sufficiently powerful. Experts in the area acknowledge the massive chasm in terms of people with disabilities and employment overall, which seems to worsen across the roles available in the ICT job market.
The first step is establishing how severe the ‘gap’ is. We lack a general inventory of ICT professions to help us identify the gaps in the ICT market, which is one reason why is it difficult to establish whether the academic sector in the Asia Pacific region is doing enough to prepare students for the job market. The discrepancies in the market need to be measured.
To help boost skills development in the Asia Pacific region, APRICOT and APNIC together with APrIGF have created fellowships and internship programs for ICT professionals. All such platforms are based on inclusive principles that leave no one behind in terms of the opportunities offered.
Moreover, while inclusive policies were part of government plans in the economies discussed, there still seem to be what we see as chronic gaps.
Why is it that despite so many efforts including affirmative action, most persons with disabilities are still unemployed?
The cost of inclusion is far less than exclusion
Discussions during the session focused on the lack of assistive technologies and their high cost, linguistic barriers in terms of accessibility, and compounding costs of situations where there may be more than one disability that limits full accessibility.
There is also a lack of quotas for the inclusion of persons with disabilities in the job sector. Economies that are addressing this include Fiji, where the 2018 National Employment Policy stipulates that two percent of the workforce of any organization must comprise persons with disabilities, and Sri Lanka, where three percent of government jobs are reserved for the same. Fiji and Sri Lanka are much smaller in population compared to many other Asia Pacific economies, but both governments and civil society are strongly advocating for more inclusion in the workforce. Overall, however, despite having some inclusive policies in place, most organizations still face challenges in conforming to this statutory requirement of inclusion. Reasons for this include:
- Skills versus minimum qualification requirements for the role.
- The employer’s perspectives about persons with disability (assuming that it is costly to employ them).
- The additional cost of assistive technologies.
- Creating an accessible working environment.
Employers need constant reminders that digital rights are human rights, and the Internet is for everyone. To help them realize the need for inclusion and the cost of exclusion, employers need to undergo training and workshops that will help them be sensitized to the barriers as well as catalysts for inclusion.
Participative decision-making process provides a voice for the underrepresented
Our environments must be inclusive, especially digital spaces, which need to be in line with Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG). Consideration should also be given to A11y discussions. A top-down approach can foster a conducive environment for inclusion. India and Europe have script web accessibility standards that are embedded into legislation and can be used as benchmarking avenues for other Asia Pacific economies to follow.
The legislation may be inclusive and supportive of employment quotas for persons with disabilities, however, even developed economies noted that mandatory requirements and enabling legislations play different yet importantly complementary roles. When employers are aware of the rights of persons with disabilities and consider their skillset, they will have a fair chance of employment. We need to stop looking at the individual and focus on their skill set instead.
More than one digital divide impacting participation
There is also a need to study the other underlying issues affecting inclusion, including persons with disabilities. Issues such as the digital divide between rural and urban areas are also relevant.
Rural communities also play a big role in national development since the bulk of the population of underdeveloped/developing economies often live and work in rural areas. Digital power is often concentrated in more developed, and more urbanized environments. This has implications for the workforce, including people with disabilities, and those who live in rural areas may face additional challenges.
These areas not only need assistance to catch up to more developed regions, they also face challenges like climate change. Lower-lying, developing, or underdeveloped economies such as the smaller Pacific Islands are already facing these challenges.
Real participation is essential
A participative decision-making process fosters an environment of multilateralism and multistakeholderism, which is perhaps the greatest need right now. Until this happens, the unconnected will remain unconnected, and the marginalized, further disadvantaged.
Adapted from the original post that appeared on LinkedIn.
Swaran Ravindra is a member of the Asia Pacific Regional Internet Governance Forum (APrIGF) 2022 Multistakeholder Group and a proud mentor to some incredibly brilliant fellows.
The views expressed by the authors of this blog are their own and do not necessarily reflect the views of APNIC. Please note a Code of Conduct applies to this blog.