Removing techbarriers in Uganda

Nieuws | de redactie
10 maart 2015 | Abdul Busuulwa was born blind in Uganda and lost his mother when he was four. Now, he earns his doctoral degree at the UTwente for studying the accessiblity of mobiles phones and computer for the blind and partially sighted. “My PhD path was an exceedingly challening period, but I made it.”

Busuulwa, raised by his grandmother and, later, assisted by his eldest brother, threw himself into his studies with support from the Ugandan government. Now he is celebrating his promotion at the University of Twente, a rare perforrmance for a blind man. “I am probably one of the first two blind Ugandans to obtain a doctorate.”

A wonderful experience

Abdul Busuulwa hopes his PhD will help him open doors for many blind Ugandans and that the use of IT will further their work, studies and careers. Busuulwa received a scholarship that enabled him to live in the Netherlands for three years and carry out his research in coöperation with supervisor Jon Lovett. “Supervising Adbul was a wonderful experience,” Lovett says. “I have learned a great deal about the barriers blind people in developing countries face.”

Mobile telephones, the internet and computers all need supporting technology to enable blind people to use them. Screen readers that convert written tekst into speech, or braille reading lines for completely blind people. Busuulwa found that currently, many websites are difficult to use because of bad design.

Social justice in Uganda

In Uganda, few people make use of this supporting technology as they can’t afford it or are unaware of its existence. “My research focuses on finding out why people in Uganda do not work with supporting technology and what I can do to promote its use”, Busuulwa explains. “Without this technology, blind people miss out on a great many opportunities in today’s information society.”

For Busuulwa, the aim of his research is social justice. “In a digitizing world everyone must be able to improve themselves, including the blind and partially sighted.” Busuulwa sees that email and e-learning for example have tremendous promise when supporting technology give the blind the opportunity to use them.

An active policy against digital divide

Abdul Busuulwa analysed barriers to the inclusion of visually impaired people in Uganda’s digital revolution at three levels: disability, personal and social. “Those questioned often did not know where to buy supporting technologies. Moreover, many were unaware of the cheaper alternatives. On a personal level, barriers to acquiring IT materials and digital skills explain why the visually impaired make such limited use of IT.”

At the policy level, Uganda pays insufficient attention to the digital needs of the visually impaired, Busuulwa sees. “Internet costs are too high for many of them, since they are often unemployed. Nevertheless, Uganda is pursuing an active policy against the digital divide, for example, by introducing the basic right to computer equipment (in 2004). However, this right does not apply to software licences, whereas it is the licences for supporting software that should be making IT affordable for visually impaired people.”

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