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Webinar on Digital Accessibility in a COVID-19 World, June 26, 2020 International Telecommunication WSIS Forum 2020

 Wednesday, August 12, 2020

Webinar on Digital Accessibility in a COVID-19 World, June 26, 2020 International Telecommunication WSIS Forum 2020

INIT in collaboration with UNESCO Chair in ICT4D at Royal Holloway, University of London and COMSATS University Islamabad conducted a Webinar on "Digital Accessibility in a Covid-19 World" at the International Telecommunication Union of United Nations (ITU) in the accessibility track of  WSIS Forum 2020 on 26th June.

The event entailed brief accounts from panel members from diverse backgrounds on accessibility challenges and practical solutions. The thematic area of the session focused on Access to Technology, Education and Affordability. 

In the past few months, the outbreak of COVID-19 has left everyone with a world with no vaccine or cure. This creates a major challenge for accessibility in general, so the role of digital accessibility increases exponentially. It is imperative to understand here that digital accessibility is not limited to just assistive technologies for Persons with Disabilities but also to those who are deprived from access to technology. In times of pandemics like one the world is facing currently, the lack of digital accessibility creates a compound negative impact on access to education, health, gainful employment and quality of life.

In this regard, this platform sought to explore this major challenge experienced by a diverse group of panelists including Persons with Disabilities from different regions of the world, Technologists, and National Innovation System experts. The session further explored from experiences of panelists hailing from upper management of higher education institutions in developing countries to highlight issues faced with online education in COVID-19 specifically for those belonging to remote areas. The Webinar was attended by 55 participants and 11 panelists.

Key achievements of Webinar:

Announcement of Project Pakistan by OptiKey to provide free open source software and hardware devices to at least 100 persons with physical impairments in Pakistan during the next six months in collaboration with INIT and COMSATS University Islamabad.

Outcomes of Webinar:

The following were the outcomes of the Webinar:

  1. Debated Issues
  • Lack of access to internet as a challenge to PWDs as compared to other challenges;
  • Need for policy guidance notes to ensure digital accessibility in developing countries;
  • Coping with digital technologies and the need of training and support;
  • Infrastructure requirements; and
  • Affordability and reliability of accessibility based technologies.


  1. Key challenges shared by the audience and/or panelists
    • The COVID-19 has made it clear that we should ensure that there are new resilient pandemic emergency policies and practices that can be implemented to support people with disabilities through the use of digital Technologies in such crisis and to provide ongoing advocacy for their implementation;
    • To make the thought process more inclusive and ensure inclusion of Persons with Disabilities, like the subject workshop; and
    • The main challenge achieving digital accessibility in the field of education includes access and affordability.However, even with these challenges in place majority of the faculty with the support of administration at COMSATS University Lahore Campus managed to run successful online classes through makeshift arrangements.
    • “One thing that COVID-19 has shown the world is understanding the feeling of being stuck indoors every day, which is a normal day for a person with Physical Disabilities” — Ms. Lobna Smida , African ICT Foundation
    • “Even for a developed country like United Kingdom the accuracy of assistive technologies for physically impaired is not up to the standard to enable them to pursue a professional career” — Mr. Hamza Afridi, Afridi Brothers Society
    • “Policy guidelines need to be present to go ahead for achieve any form of accessibility” — Prof. Shahid Memon, Pakistan Disabled Foundation
    • “People with disabilities have suffered disproportionately due to COVID-19, and its responsibilities of all of us to do something about it and see what lessons can be learned” — Prof. Tim Unwin, UNESCO Chair in ICT4D, Royal Holloway University of London.
    • “All Digital Technologies should be inclusive in its design and implementation from beginning, so that those with disabilities aren’t marginalized” — Prof. Tim Unwin, UNESCO Chair in ICT4D, Royal Holloway University of London.


  2. Overall outcomes of the session highlighting
    • Main conclusions reached during the discussion:
      • Assistive technologies either should be free or minimally priced for the user;
      • Governmental support including finance is needed to make digital accessibility sustainable; and
      • Lack of accessibility tools is a major challenge to digital accessibility in developing countries, including local language content.


    • The vision for implementation of WSIS Action lines beyond 2015:
      • To achieve Digital Accessibility through C1 (Role public governance policy and all stakeholders in the promotion of ICTs for Development);
      • To achieve Digital Accessibility through C7 (Education and Governance); and
      • To ensure C8 (Cultural diversity and identity, linguistics diversity and local content).


  3. Main linkages with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)

    The thematic areas of the workshop focused on:

    • SDG 1: No Poverty
    • SDG 4: Quality Education
    • SDG 10: Reduce Inequalities


  4. Emerging Trends related to WSIS Action Lines identified during the meeting
    • There was a focus on ensuring digital accessibility and affordability and lack of infrastructure were routinely pointed by panelists and audience for C1;
    • C10 was also touched upon the ethical dimensions of the information society; and
    • C4 Capacity building was also an highlighted area for future users of technology.


  5. Suggestions for Thematic Aspects that might be included in the WSIS Forum 2021
  • Universal Accessible Design, policies and implementation; and
  • Technology and inequality




The following panelists participated it the Webinar:


Prof. Tim Unwin

UNESCO Chair, Emeritus Professor of Geography,

UNESCO Chair in ICT for Development (ICT4D), Royal Holloway, University of London


Prof. Dr. Raheel Qamar

Rector COMSATS University / President INIT,

INIT / COMSATS University, Pakistan


Dr. Tahir Naeem

Director Lahore Campus (CUI) / Executive Director (INIT),

COMSATS University, Inter Islamic Network on Information Technology


Mr. Julius Sweetland

Founder and CEO,

Opti-Key, UK


Mr. Hazma Afridi


Afridi Brothers Society, UK


Ms. Lobna Smida


Presidential Palace of Tunisia


Prof. Shahid Ahmed Memon


Pakistan Disabled Foundation


Ms. Shakila Yasmin

Vice President,

Pakistan Disabled Foundation


Dr. Akber Gardezi

Assistant Professor,

COMSATS University, Inter Islamic Network on Information Technology


The recording of the Webinar can be accessed at

Click here for pictures

Keywords: Webinar