Under the Honorable Prime Minister’s direction as well as the leadership and guidance of the ICT Adviser, Aspire to Innovate (a2i) Programme has been working sincerely under the ICT Division and Cabinet Division of Government of Bangladesh to make web accessibility a reality. More than 33 thousand active Web Portals are integrated with the National Portal, the web portals of Bangladesh, including all the ministries, divisions, departments, directorates, and other different government agencies. Although the Government of Bangladesh has set the priorities of digitizing the public services to implement the vision of Digital Bangladesh, persons with disabilities are still deprived of accessing these public services.
According to the Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics (BBS), it is estimated that 8% of the total population of Bangladesh has some form of disability. Persons with disabilities are the most disadvantaged community in Bangladesh because discrimination diminishes their access to public services as well as deprives them of all mainstream development initiatives. Therefore, considering the rights of persons with disabilities to obtain public services, all e-services need to be accessible.
Global Commitments and National Obligations for Bangladesh
To enable persons with disabilities to live independently and participate fully in all aspects of life, the Government of Bangladesh has enacted the ‘Persons with Disabilities Rights and Protection Act 2013’. A separate section on digital inclusion and accessibility has been kept in the act to emphasize the disability-inclusive public services. Besides, the government has included disability in the national action plan to make it a national priority. Moreover, the United Nations Disability Inclusion Strategy also provides the foundation for sustainable and transformative progress on disability inclusion through all pillars of the work of the United Nations: peace and security, human rights, and development. The Strategy enables the UN system to support the implementation of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and other international human rights instruments and the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals and the Agenda for Humanity. United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD) under articles 9 and 21, state parties are expected to take necessary measures to promote access for persons with disabilities on an equal basis, including identifying and eliminating obstacles and barriers to accessibility. In September 2015, building on the principle of ‘leaving no one behind’, the General Assembly adopted the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development where ‘Persons with disabilities or ‘disability’ were mentioned 11 times. Consequently, in addition to creating citizen-friendly services, the Bangladesh government emphasizes the accessibility of e-services to ensure inclusive public services.
Initiatives Taken for the Disability-Inclusive Web or e-Service Development
Considering both the national and global priorities, the Government of Bangladesh accentuates the inclusion of people from all the segments of the society, including people with disabilities, in the mainstream development activities in achieving sustainable development and minimizing inequalities. Great strives have already been started in Bangladesh to further its vision of ‘Inclusive Digital Bangladesh.’
National Web Accessibility Guideline has been drafted by a2i programme which is under development, in continuation with this journey of accessible web or e-services and can play a vital role in changing the web accessibility scenario for persons with disabilities. It was developed maintaining a widely accepted set of technical guidelines (W3C 2.1) of the World Wide Web Consortium with a view to making the websites universally accessible.
Accessibility Plugin has already been developed locally with the help of Bangladeshi developer companies. It has been developed following the WCAG 2.1 Guideline. It is effortless to make the websites accessible using the accessibility plugin that costs no extra money.
Making Websites Accessible is a significant initiative. a2i Programme has started working to make the government platforms accessible such as National Portal of the country, e-filing system-Nothi, skills platform-National Intelligence Skills, Education, Employment and Entrepreneurship (NISEEE), One-stop payment platform-ekPay, and the single platform for all government services-myGov). a2i started the journey of accessibility by working with the accessibility of some of its very own initiatives and followed by some other government websites like Janatar Sarkar, the platform for virtual meeting-Boithok and so on. All those websites or e-services are planned to be accessible at least following the conformance level A by March 2022.
Access Audit are being conducted regularly to test the accessibility of the websites. An accessibility progress tracker has been developed for the assessment of the websites or e-services. a2i engages persons with disabilities to conduct access audits to ensure the minimum conformance level of accessibility.
Collaboration with Bangladesh Association of Software and Information Services (BASIS)
National Web Accessibility Workshop has been initiated by a2i Program and Bangladesh Association of Software and Information (BASIS) jointly. An orientation workshop was organized on ‘National Web Accessibility’ on 26 October 2021 for the representatives from IT organizations that are members of BASIS. The workshop’s main objective was to ensure accessibility to all government websites and e-services, including for persons with disabilities, to ensure inclusive web and e-services. The workshop was dignified by the participation of Mr. N M Zeaul Alam, PAA, Senior Secretary, Information and Communication Technology (ICT) Division, as the Chief Guest. Dr. Shah Alam, Chief Innovation Officer (Additional Secretary) of Ministry of Social Welfare, Dr. Shahnaz Arefin, Chief Innovation Officer (Additional Secretary) of the Cabinet Division, and Mr. Rashad Kabir, Director of BASIS were present there as the special guests and the Project Director of a2i, Dr. Dewan Muhammad Humayun Kabir was present there as the president of the workshop. An informative presentation was shared on Web Accessibility at the workshop, highlighting the importance and necessity of web accessibility mentioning different laws and national priorities. The draft national web accessibility guideline was presented along with different barriers of persons with disabilities accessing websites or e-services and their associated solutions. He also showed the accessibility plugin that was developed considering the w3c 2.1 guidelines regarding web accessibility.
Capacity Development of Service Developers of IT Organizations
A training module was planned to develop collaboration with BASIS for service developers’ capacity development on web or e-service accessibility. BASIS will organize capacity development workshops for the IT organizations with technical support from a2i.
To strive towards the disability-inclusive Digital Bangladesh, a2i is working as a catalyst by connecting government, IT organizations, and persons with disabilities. By ensuring the accessibility of web or e-services will guarantee inclusive public services that will help the country achieve the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030.