By Ange de la Victoire DUSABEMUNGU
Ngoma, 3rd December, 2023: As Rwanda celebrates the International Day of Persons with Disabilities, members of the Rwanda Union of the Blind (RUB) and the Management joined the community in Ngomba District in Eastern Province to showcase their contributions towards the sustainable development goals.
The theme for 2023 International Day of Persons with Disabilities is ‘United in action to rescue and achieve the sustainable development goals for, with and by persons with disabilities’.
During the celebration, RUB also received a Certificate of Appreciation for the active participation in preparing for the Day of Persons with Disabilities and their efforts to promote disability inclusion in Ngoma District and of course across the country.
However, amidst the celebration, Dr. Donatilla Kanimba, the Executive Director of RUB, highlighted the ongoing challenges faced by persons with disabilities, particularly the visually impaired.
She emphasized that the lack of necessary equipment in schools and workplaces is hindering their progress towards sustainable development.
Dr. Donatilla Kanimba, the Executive Director of the Rwanda Union of the Blind
“The main problem is the lack of necessary equipment in schools and in the workplace,” Dr. Kanimba stated. She further explained that finding a place to purchase equipment specifically designed for the visually impaired remains a challenge. The equipment they receive is often through donations or by participating in bidding processes. This scarcity makes it difficult for those who can afford it to access the necessary tools.
Dr. Kanimba also highlighted the issue of accessibility in schools. Despite the financial means some individuals may have, they are still not given the opportunity to purchase these essential materials. This lack of access to equipment further hampers the educational and professional development of persons with disabilities.
These concerns were echoed by Mr. Vuguziga Innocent, a teacher at HVP Gatagara and a member of the RUB (Rwanda Union of the Blind), and Mr. Emmanuel, a member of RUB and a disability inclusion facilitator at the National Union of Disabled Organizations in Rwanda, who both emphasized that the lack of equipment, non-implementation of international agreements for the disabled, and other challenges continue to impede their development.
Commenting on the challenges faced in accessing assistive technology for the blind, Mr. Vuguziga explained that these devices are very expensive and not readily available in Rwanda.
He said “The lack of specific traders or suppliers in the country makes it necessary to import these devices.”
Additionally, he adds, “the software programs required for assistive technology, such as JAWS, are also very costly.”
JAWS, Job Access With Speech, is the world’s most popular screen reader, developed for computer users whose vision loss prevents them from seeing screen content
Mr. Vuguziga Innocent, a teacher at HVP Gatagara and a member of the RUB (Rwanda Union of the Blind)
Vuguziga suggested that the Rwandan government should provide support to individuals who want to purchase assistive technologies, just as they do for other equipment like solar energy, equipment in agriculture among others.
“This support could include tax exemptions and financial assistance, depending on the individual’s needs.” Mr. Vuguziga said.
He also called on different institutions that have persons with disabilities to take responsibility for ordering these devices and ensuring their availability. Lastly, Mr. Vuguziga urged the private sector to engage in providing assistive technology and to advocate for the satisfaction of persons with disabilities through technological advancements.
In addition to the challenges mentioned above, Mr. Izere highlights the issue of web accessibility for visually impaired individuals.
He mentions a recruitment portal in Rwanda that is not accessible with screen readers like JAWS, making it difficult for visually impaired individuals to access government job opportunities.
“This lack of web accessibility creates a barrier for people with visual impairments to find employment.” He said
Mr. Izere also brings attention to the discriminatory attitudes and practices faced by visually impaired persons in the job market.
He mentions instances where visually impaired individuals are rejected during the application process or deemed ineligible for positions simply because of their disability.
“This mindset changes and the removal of employment barriers based on disability is crucial for creating equal opportunities for visually impaired individuals.” He added.
To address these challenges, Mr. Izere proposes several solutions. Firstly, he suggests implementing web accessibility testing in Rwanda to ensure that websites and online platforms are accessible to individuals with disabilities, including visual impairments. He emphasizes the need for practical implementation of tested accessibility standards.
Furthermore, Mr. Izere calls on the government of Rwanda to prioritize the implementation of laws and conventions that promote accessibility and inclusion for individuals with disabilities.
He specifically mentions the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD) and the Marrakesh Treaty, which Rwanda has ratified.
He urges the government to foster the implementation of these agreements and ensure that individuals with visual impairments have equal access to information and opportunities.
Lastly, Mr. Izere suggests that the government of Rwanda should consider affirmative action for individuals with disabilities, similar to the measures taken for gender equality.
He proposes setting a percentage quota for employing persons with disabilities, such as 5%, to ensure that visually impaired individuals have fair employment opportunities.
By addressing web accessibility, changing discriminatory attitudes, implementing laws and conventions, and introducing affirmative action measures, Mr. Izere believes that Rwanda can create a more inclusive society where visually impaired individuals can access employment and contribute to the workforce.