TECHNICAL REPORT

Grantee
Handicap International Federation (Humanity & Inclusion)
Project Title Inclusive and efficient access to internet services and information for persons with disabilities in Bangladesh
Amount Awarded USD 30,000
Dates covered by this report: 2022-01-28 to 2023-05-31
Economies where project was implemented Bangladesh
Project leader name
Rajesh Chandra
Partner organization Young Power in Social Action (YPSA)

Project Summary

Persons with disabilities, and in particular persons who are blind or have visual impairments, do not have enough access to essential web-based services and opportunities in Bangladesh, due to the lack of accessibility among other reasons. Because of that, they are denied a variety of educational, employment, protection, health, cultural opportunities thus exacerbating their level of exclusion and discrimination. The project aims at tackling this inequality by providing Bangladesh with a robust corpus of references and knowledge about web-accessibility, and by reinforcing the digital literacy of persons with disabilities, in particular, in the use of screen reading software. The project is a pilot, and is being initiated as a new and crucial process in Bangladesh from both a top-down perspective (development of web accessibility standards, dissemination and advocacy through policy dialogue) and bottom-up (capacity development of relevant stakeholders including developers and users/persons with disabilities, awareness raising campaigns, etc.).

Table of contents

Background and Justification

According to the World Bank (2011), the cost of excluding people with disabilities and their caregivers from education and employment in Bangladesh is US$ 1.2 billion annually (1.7% of GDP). In recent years, the Government of Bangladesh (GoB) has made significant efforts to promote rights of persons with disabilities by reviewing outdated policies; the Disability Welfare Act (2001) was replaced by Rights and Protection of Persons with Disabilities Act in 2013, after ratification of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD) in 2007.

However, the translation of the policies into implementation is often questionable – partly due to limited knowledge and skill of relevant service providers and authorities. 

According to the World Report on Disability, 15% of the world’s population lives with a disability; 82% of them live on less than a dollar a day (WB and WHO 2011). A joint study by Humanity & Inclusion, Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics (BBS), and Nossal Institute in two districts of Bangladesh in 2017 revealed that i) 92% of women and 46% of men with disabilities are involved in unpaid work, 64% of people with disabilities have unmet needs in accessing social services and iv) 85% people with disabilities have unmet needs in accessing education and skill development training.

Meanwhile, the national censuses 1981, 1991, and 2001 estimated prevalence rate of disability at 0.82, 0.47, and 0.60 respectively, which reflects a significant gap in identification of persons with disabilities to ensure their social protection by the state.   

According to the UNCRPD articles 9 and 21, State parties are expected to take necessary measures to promote access for persons with disabilities to new information and communications technologies and systems, including the internet. It also requires identifying and eliminating obstacles in Information, communications, and other services, including electronic services and emergency services for persons with disabilities. It also promotes the design, development, production, and distribution of accessible information and communications technologies and systems at an early stage, so that these technologies and systems become accessible at minimum cost and encouraging the mass media, including providers of information through the internet, to make their services accessible to persons with disabilities. 
Moreover, the disability rights and protection act-2013 protects persons with disabilities rights to equal access to all social services such as infrastructure, communication, transportation, information, and technology.

Web accessibility means access to the web by everyone, regardless of his or her physical, sensory and learning abilities.  It also indicates that websites, tools, and technologies are designed and developed so that persons with disabilities can use them. The Bangladesh Government has set web-accessibility as one of its priorities to make all the services digital and accessible for all citizens and ensure the vision of turning the country into Digital Bangladesh. Currently, in Bangladesh, all the Ministries, Departments, Divisions, Districts, Upazilas (sub-districts), and Unions have active web portals integrated through the National Web Portal of Bangladesh that is also the largest government web portal in the world. These web portals do not yet have ‘appropriate and quality accessibility’ features for persons with disabilities. 

Therefore, HI and YPSA are jointly implementing the ‘Inclusive and efficient access to Internet services and information for persons with disabilities in Bangladesh’ project for the period January to October 2022. The main objectives are

  1. Standards on accessible web design are available and translated in local language for web designers, and web designers are trained on them;
  2. Persons with disabilities enjoy efficient use of accessible web apps and services; and
  3. People with disabilities have improved capacity to access accessible web application and services via screen reading software.

The project developed accessible standards and guideline as well as capacity building of persons with disabilities who can access the govt. and non-govt. websites to ensure different kind of services. An advocacy initiative plan also added with govt. to roll out the guideline around the all web developers to make current and up-next websites accessible.

Project Implementation Narrative

Activity #1: Develop guidelines on web accessibility 
Web accessibility guidelines were developed in compliance with WCAG 2.1 accessibility standards. The initial draft of the guidelines was developed by YPSA in March 2022. The validation workshop the guideline have completed on 11 August 2022. Deputy Director of Chittagong district social welfare office was present as a chief guest in the workshop, 23 Government officials, Journalist, Teachers, NGO Representatives, OPD leaders, Students participated in the workshop. During this time, web accessibility guideline which is already published by the governments of A to I program (a2i, a multinational digital transformation organization founded in Bangladesh, accelerates the inclusive digitization of public services thereby widening access and decentralizes delivery. It evolved from the flagship Aspire to Innovate program of the government’s Digital Bangladesh Vision 2021 initiative, supported by UNDP) under ICT division. Vashkar Bhattacharjee actively worked as a consultant on behalf of YPSA and Humanity & Inclusion in developing the guidelines.

Activity # 2: Develop an online web accessibility toolkit in Bangla & Publish the toolkit and ensure wider dissemination    
The Bangla language online web accessibility toolkit was designed in compliance with WCAG2.1 web accessibility standards. The initial draft was completed by YPSA in September 2022. Following review by HI’s global accessibility expert, YPSA updated the guidelines. A final validation workshop was organized in October 2022 with local level stakeholders and users for its use and dissemination of use by persons with disabilities especially visual impairment students. They gave few feedback to improve the content and be more accessible to use by all students and service seekers.

Participants in the validation workshop help test the web accessibility toolkit.
Participants in the validation workshop help test the web accessibility toolkit.

Initially YPSA IRCD followed the WCAG 2.1 and kept all the content the same as per government guidelines to follow the international standards. The YPSA team translated the content in Bangla language and developed a very simple toolkit. As per project resource, this toolkit is very simple and has the opportunity to add more audio-visual elements. Due to limited scope and resources, it was not possible to upload or host in any web domain. So that initially YPSA web-site to add and further use. Govt. A2i program also reviewed the toolkit and proposed to add it to the government eLearning course after further development and improvement in content which required more required resources and funding.

A screenshot of the developer module on the site, with the description in Bangla.
A screenshot of the developer toolkit, in Bangla


Activity # 3: Develop training manual for people with visual impairment on accessible web access.    
A training manual has been developed following the standard training manual development process. The YPSA team developed this training manual based on web access and the needs of persons with disabilities including visual impairment. Their IRCD team prepared this module and the unit head and trainer reviewed the content. They also conducted meetings and shared with students with disabilities as design based on their requirement. Most of the students with visual impairment wanted to get Internet browsing and related shortcut options to use and visit the govt. websites. They shared this module with HI to review and organized training using this manual. HI reviewed and published both print copy and braille copy for wide dissemination.

Activity # 4: Training for persons with visual impairment   
YPSA conducted five 2-day training sessions for persons with visual impairment on How to Browse the Internet Through a Screen Reader with the support of Handicap International-Humanity & Inclusion and APNIC Foundation at the YPSA head office meeting room, Chattogram University central library and YPSA HRDC Sitakunda. The trainings were held 29-30 June, 23 -24 July, 28-29 July, 13-14 August and 30-31 August 2022 for increasing knowledge on internet browsing. The sessions had a total of 99 (39 girls and 60 boys) persons with visual impairment, who are studying at Chattogram University, various private universities, and various government and non-government colleges of Chattogram.

The Chief executive of YPSA Md. Arifur Rahman, director of YPSA Md. Manzur Morshed Chowdhury, Sitakunda upazila social service officer and Vashkar Bhattacharjee consultant A2I & head YPSA IRCD were present as key speakers in these training events. The key speakers inaugurated the training and discussed with the learners about the importance of training in information technology as well as the importance of screen reader software (like NVDA, JAWs) to access web platforms.   

Newaz Mahmud, Program Manager and project focal of YPSA, Md. Rasheduzaman Chowdhury Program Officer of YPSA IRDC and Tilok Kanti Chowdhury project Officer served as facilitators in the training.  Facilitators discussed the basic concepts of Internet usage and web browsing with the trainees in theory and practice during the 2-day training. In the training, the facility discussed in detail the content of the website according to the Web Content Accessible Guideline [WCAG] guidelines. The contents that are prioritized in the discussion are:  How to browse Internet through screen reader? How to access the website through a smart phone? How to browse YouTube with Screen reader? The difference between the Internet and world wide web. How to search information, online communication and common use of the Internet? How to find a job browsing the Internet? How to secure Your Computer and online practices? How to conduct research with web browsing?   
The main learning is newbies can learn faster by organizing training with a combination of somewhat skilled and fresher students. The major challenges are lack of necessary mobiles and laptops with students and not providing training manual to trainees during training. The main recommendations were to providing training manual to trainees during training, organizing university-based training, Providing necessary materials to persons with visual impairment.   


Activity # 5: Accessibility audit of the key government websites    
An online survey was conducted using different quantitative and qualitative methods to select government websites and e-services:   
1.     Bangladesh.gov.bd
2.     Ministry of social welfare
3.     Department of Social Services   
4.     Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics
5.     Ministry of youth
6.     Ministry of Education   
7.     Bangladesh Technical Education board   
8.     Ministry of Women and Child
9.     Ministry of Health   
10.  Ministry of Disaster Management & Relief   
Accessibility audits were completed for each targeted website (see links above). The YPSA IRCD team conducted the accessibility audit as per the consultancy work. Initially they formed a working group who prepared a checklist for following WCAG standards for Level A (beginner), Level AA (intermediate) and Level AAA (advanced). This working group also developed the audit tools and conducted meetings with both persons with disabilities especially students with visual impairments. Based on this survey, the team identified the mostly used government websites which are required to access the services. Vashkar Bhattacharjee guided YPSA IRCD to develop this tool and conducted audits with selected above 10 websites. The YPSA web manager conducted this audit and prepared the report. Project team conducted this audit and based on findings shared with local level stakeholders. But not yet to start advocacy with the respective website authority or ministries. This audit identified the barriers faced by service seekers and possible ways forward to make it more accessible. 

Activity # 6: Advocacy meeting with policy makers   
2 advocacy meetings were held on October 2022 at Sitakunda Upazila and Chittagong City.    
YPSA organized an advocacy meeting on Endorsement for the web accessibility guideline and toolkit with the support of Handicap International-Humanity & Inclusion at Bir Muktijodha AKM Mofizur Rahman Hall Sitakunda Chattogram on 12 October 2022. Total 35 (Male 23 and Female 12) Participants included Government Officials, Media workers, development workers, teachers and students of various educational institutions participated in this advocacy meeting.   
Vashkar Bhattacharya, National consultant of A2I and Head of YPSA’s ICT and Resource Centre on Disabilities (IRCD), spoke on the basic concept of using internet for people with disabilities by connecting online under the direction of YPSA’s Program Manager Newaz Mahmud. YPSA Web Master Abdullah Al Sakir gave various instructional speeches and Project Manager of Handicap International Md. Nazrul Islam spoke the important of this project activities.    
Upazila Social Service Officer Lutfun Necha Begum preside over the meeting and Radio Sagar Giri station in-charge Sanjay Chowdhury moderated the advocacy meeting. Upazila Cooperative Officer Shahid Bhuiyan, Sitakunda Press Club General Secretary Liton Kumar Chowdhury and Upazila Assistant Education Officer Tajmeri Khatun, Barayadhala DPO president Md. Nur Nobi also addressed the meeting.   

The advocacy meeting on Endorsement for the Web accessibility guideline and toolkit for persons with disabilities took place on 13 October 2022 at the Pitstop Restaurant conference room, Chattogram, with the aim of increasing the capacity of visually impaired people in information technology, organized by YPSA for sustainable development and with the support of Humanity & Inclusion Bangladesh.    
A total of 46 participants (Male 33 and Female 13) included Government Officials, local government representatives, journalist, TVET representative, NGO representatives, teachers, DPO leaders and students of various educational institutions participated in this advocacy meeting.

The Director of Chittagong Divisional Social Services Office Kazi Nazmul Islam was present as the chief guest in the meeting chaired by YPSA Chief Executive Md. Arifur Rahman. Journalist M.  Nasirul Haque, Ward No. 7 Councillor of Chittagong City Corporation Md. Mobarak Hossain, Ashrifa Tanjim, Principal of Bangladesh Women's Technical Training Center, Md Ferozul Alam, Regional Director of Bangladesh Computer Council Chittagong and Vashkar Bhattacharya, National Consultant of A2I was present as an honoured guest. In addition, YPSA Program Manager Nawaz Mahmud gave a presentation on the project activities and YPSA Web Manager Abdullah Al Sakir gave ideas on web accessibility and toolkit.

Project Review and Assessment

Challenges Overcome 

  • Advocacy with the respective government ministries was challenging to pass in the cabinet and adopt for all the govt. websites. The YPSA team worked closely with the government and worked as a pressure group to ensure dissemination among all the country.   
  • The Web accessibility toolkit was designed for web developers but not able to organize any capacity building training for them or orient them. The project team addressed the issue and shared it with web developers. Thus, there are plans to organize training for them in the next scale up or phase once the toolkit is strengthened or secured and made more accessible with more tools.
  • Students with disabilities have a huge need to use the Internet or browse the web. The project resource was limited, so the team organized training at the local level to university level and kept the resource materials in the university library for further use by other students with disabilities.    
  • The project team developed a web accessibility toolkit but was not able to use any domain to use it online. Later, YPSA used their web site to store this toolkit and planned for further development and updates.   
  • The project duration was too short to advocate with the government to adopt the guideline because it’s related to the link with the government mandate and their own strategy to adopt. So, the project team waited and YPSA disability focal Vashkar Bhattacharya played both roles to ensure this guideline was mandatory and present in cabinet. The YPSA team also shared this guideline and toolkit with local level stakeholders.   

Lessons learned and good practices

  • It appears that persons with visual impairment will have some difficulty using the guidelines and toolkit. So, it needs to be made more accessible. For which coding systems can be improved, video content can be created and a separate domain can be used.   
  • Guidelines and toolkits are not well known by other people in the society including visually impaired people, so more publicity campaigns are needed to create awareness about these issues.   
  • Accessibility for persons with visual impairment was possible at one level, also needed to ensure at grassroots level materials development and ensure accessibility.   
  • The monthly project steering committee meetings were effective to get updates and required action plans for moving forward.   
  • The guidelines have already been published by the A2I program of the ICT Department of the Bangladesh government.   
  • Visual impairment students can benefit from using web accessibility guidelines and toolkits.    
  • Newbies can learn faster by organizing training with a combination of somewhat skilled and fresher students.   
  • The web accessibility toolkit is very much effective and informative. Government A2I can use this toolkit as an eLearning course through running country’s largest eLearning platform called Muktopaath (https://muktopaath.gov.bd). A2i can host a course on digital accessibility.

Gender Equity and Inclusion

The project has been ensuring complete inclusion, non-discrimination, zero-tolerance, and respect for diversity in all its components. This project has been designed especially for persons with disabilities and persons with disabilities are involved with every aspect of this project, from planning to execution. What is more, in its relevant segments (advocacy meetings, media campaign, web operation and relevant activities, training, etc.), this project is highly promoted accessibility, disability inclusion, women empowerment, equal rights for all, etc. as a whole.

To keep its pledge and uphold its constitution, HI & YPSA has been working to defend diversity and inclusion through implementing dedicated projects, advocacy initiatives, facilitating policy formulation, promotional activities, etc. at the local and national level. The project ensured equal participation of women in the planning to execution process especially the capacity building training (39 girls) based on standard accessible guideline. The project team added women with disabilities in discussion group about web guideline development and accessibility audit web-sites selection. In the validation workshop at local and national level, project team ensured the women representatives from the stakeholders and persons with disabilities as well as vulnerable groups.

Project Management

HI took the lead to implement the project as per the grant agreement between HI and APNIC Foundation on 18th January 2022. HI Country Director assigned a project manager and inclusion technical specialist to implement and guide the project. HI's global accessibility advisor reviewed all the publication and capacity building of YPSA technical team related to web accessibility. Then HI completed a sub-grant agreement with YPSA as per proposal on 1st February 2022. YPSA was assigned to complete all the project activities. YPSA assigned their IRCD team to implement the consultancy work as no external consultant was selected as per project resource.

HI took validation from APNIC. The YPSA program manager implemented all the activities with close supervision from HI project manager. YPSA IRCD head provided technical guidance to develop all the documents and toolkit who is also working for the Government as consultant. The project took this opportunity to do advocacy with the government to ensure this guideline to present in the cabinet and roll out to other ministries. He played both roles to ensure timely production of the document and linking with the government ministry. HI compliance and finance team conducted the audit to ensure the financial transparency and YPSA address HI issues.

The MEAL team supported to set indicators to measure the project target and result. The Project Steering Committee was formed at the beginning of the project and sat on a monthly basis to review the progress and way forward. The HI project manager ensured the implementation of the project through visiting the project area and conducted interviews with the students with disabilities to see the impact of training and needs of persons with visual impairment. Finally, the HI & YPSA team completed all the activities and produced the final narrative progress report to share with APNIC. HI senior management reviewed the project quarterly basis and provided inputs in all the produced documents.

Project Sustainability

The project has delivered concrete outputs including web accessibility guidelines for web developers in Bangladesh, tools for performing accessibility audits, a training manual for educating persons with disabilities including visual impairments about the use of screen reader and other tools to access websites, etc.  The development of these concrete tools and resources have been completed with the full participation of the local implementing partner YPSA and local government.    
The technical outputs created have been tested to demonstrate their uses and effectiveness. They have been handed over YPSA IRCD team to further development and update of the toolkit. Humanity & Inclusion and YPSA will continue this advocacy to make all websites accessible for persons with disabilities.   
The project has focused on achievement of sustainable steps towards web accessibility in Bangladesh.  However, additional investment is required to ensure update and effective usage of the tools and resources developed by the project.    

Project Communication

The project has developed some accessible communication materials (audio-visual, on-line off-line and Braille) that has been and will be disseminated among diverse stakeholders with specific targets of men and women with disabilities, CSOs, internet service providers, web designer, policy makers, etc. The materials included project fact sheet, project brochure, short video clip, radio promo, publication of Internet standards, training manual for users, etc. 

The Below communication means have been used for wider dissemination: 

  • Social media in particular Facebook 
  • Developed project fact sheet and/or brochure and disseminate among target beneficiaries and relevant stakeholders (e.g., OPDs, Other NGOs, Internet service providers, web-designers, government) 
  • YPSA’s community radio (Radio Sagar Giri 99.2 FM) to disseminate among users with disabilities.   
  • Vashkar Vhattacharjee actively works as a consultant on behalf of YPSA and Humanity & Inclusion in developing the guideline A to I program under ICT division of governments.   
  • Government’s A2I program will support to disseminate the achievements of the project nationwide.   
  • Network of web-designed and Internet service providers also targeted to communicate about the project.   
  • Cooperation in the training of visually impaired students through e-learning centre of Chittagong University.
  • Manuals and guidelines were also provided in the university library so students can use them.   
  • Printed training module (including braille version) and web accessibility guidelines for wide dissemination   
  • Used project information in the annual report of Humanity and Inclusion.

Project recommendations and use of findings

Recommendations to web-developers: Facilitating guidelines and toolkits need to be hand-booked. The training guideline should be Braille book and an audio book and hand book for easy access of information to visual impairment people and other students with disabilities.   

Recommendations to donors and Government: This collaboration needs to continue for further development the web accessibility. and strengthen better Internet access services for persons with disabilities including sensory impairment.  Private or individual funding is necessary to work on this most vulnerable community. The Government can support and allocate budget for funds for NGOs or CSOs to build their capacity as well as work more at the grassroots level to reach easy & accessible ways. The Government can use the accessibility audit report and make all websites accessible.  

Recommendations to NGO/INGO/CSO: The NGO/INGO/CSO need to continue advocacy with the government and searching more funding to work for persons with disabilities. They need to involve more web developers or organization of respective association to widely disseminate this guideline or toolkit.     Providing necessary materials and training manual to persons with disabilities. Increasing Coordination with various departments of the government to widely disseminate the guideline. Organizing more university-based training and target students at all level.   

Recommendations to persons with disabilities: They need to involve organizations who work for their accessibility and continue joint advocacy to ensure their rights as well as providing needs and demand of this issues as  everyone can count and ensure web accessibility. Persons with disabilities need to use those guidelines and share their learning of capacity building to  other persons with disabilities and students with sensory impairment. Also, providing the necessary feedback on the developed toolkit to make it more accessible and user friendly.