By Emeka Aginam
How best to evolve policies and regulatory guidelines that will address the ICTÂ concerns of the physically challenged and the elderly people in the society was the focus of a one -day national summit onÂ â€œICTs and Accessibility for Persons with Special Needs and the Elderlyâ€ organized by the telecom regulatory agency, the Nigerian Communications Commission,Â NCC .
For majority of speakers at the event that attracted capacity audience, persons with special needs and the elderly people may not survive the knowledge economyÂ driven by knowledge and exchange of information and ideasÂ unless they areÂ empowered with specially designed ICT tools.
With theseÂ special groups of persons constitutingÂ 25% of the total Nigerian populace, speakers after speakerÂ at the national summit were noted that ICTs and accessibility for persons with special needs and the elderly shouldÂ concernÂ the design and supply of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) products and services with particular regard to ensuring that they can be used by people with disabilities and othersÂ for whom the technical features of ICTs can pose barriers to their usage.
The full spectrum of ICTs, the speakers saidÂ needÂ to be accessible if everyone is to have equal opportunities for participation in everyday social and economic life in the Information Society.
The conference which discussedÂ and deliberatedÂ on technical framework and possibilities that will assist the government,Â regulator, and other policy makers to evolve an all inclusive policies and guidelinesÂ Â that willÂ give equal opportunity to all in ICTÂ for all regardless of ages, gender and persons with disabilities, experts at the event believed that there should a paradyn shift to address the ICT accessibility for these groups of persons.
Meanwhile,Â the Chairman ofÂ NCC, Alhaji Ahmed Jorda in his opening remarks,Â people with special needs and the elderly should be carried along in this era of digital revolution.
According to him, service was universal, noting that everybody body must have access to ICT networks not withstanding the level of disability.
He said thatÂ ICT provided opportunities for every one and that a level playing ground should be put in place to enhance access, adding that with all service providers coming together to offer special technologies, the situation would be greatly improved.
Similarly,Â the Chairman, Senate Committee on Communications, Senator Sylvester Anyanwu,â€you may be handicapped, but not less privilege.â€
He said for instance, the provision of necessary communication services in the rural areas wouldÂ not only facilitate digital penetration, but would also reduce the pressure on urban areas for communications access.
He arguedÂ that those with disabilities as well as the elderly were Nigerians, and have equal rights like every other Nigerian. â€œYou are entitled to necessary communications tool like computers, phones, and internet connections among others.â€ he said.
While encouragingÂ NCC to do more of the initiative with future programmes lined up for next year, he saidÂ that he was aware of phones configured for the blind, and the availability of opportunities for those in wheel chairs to use communications tools commercially for economic development.
Earlier in his opening remarks, the Executive Vice Chairman of NCC, Ernest Ndukwe said in the modern world, ICT tools were vital to national development and that it covered all facets of human endeavour, adding that survival in the 21st Century knowledge economy depended on access to local and international communications network.
â€œIn achieving universal service, no group of persons should be neglected. NCC is determined to empower the disabled and elderly with electronic gadgets that will enable them face the challenges of knowledge economy,â€ stressing that more attention should be given to disabled people.
â€œThe commitment of the international community to promote the rights of persons with disabilities is deeply rooted in the goals of the United Nations.Â It is the realization of the Charterâ€™s vision of a just and peaceful world and better standards of life in larger freedoms
â€œChapter II SECTION 16 (2) of 1999 Constitution of Federal Republic of Nigeria provides that â€œThe state shall direct its policy towards ensuring: (d)â€¦â€¦.welfare of the disabled are provided for all citizensâ€.
â€œFurthermore, the Nigerian Communications Act, 2003 provides for persons with special needs in Section 1 (h) â€œensure that the needs of the disabled and elderly persons are taken into consideration in the provision of communications services.
â€œ In recognition of the requirements of the Act regarding this group of people and also in line with the NCCâ€˜s Consumer Centric approach to regulation, the Commission has taken a number of initiatives geared toward assisting persons with special needs and theÂ Elderly in the areas of telecoms service provisioning.
â€œ Lately, the Commission held fact finding meetings with the challenged group to establish areas of difficulty, expectations from service providers and for the regulator to initiate friendly policy that will address their concernsâ€ Ndukwe explained.
The summit which wasÂ supported by the International Telecommunications Union, ITU, is part of the efforts by the Commission to ensure connectivity to all Nigerians, particularly, persons with special needs.Participants at the event were drawn from different associations of physically challenged persons and civil society organizations.