First, tell us who you are and what you do.
Hello there! I’m Nicodemus Nyakundi, an advocate for digital inclusion. My role as a Digital Accessibility Fellow at KICTANet (Kenya ICT Action Network) involves championing ICT access and equality for people with disabilities. Through engaging with stakeholders, advocating for policy changes, and building capacity in the community, I’m making a significant impact in this field. It’s a fulfilling job, and I take pride in being part of this crucial work.
1.Can you tell us about your experience with the Cisco Certified Network Associate (CCNA) course, at the IT Bridge Academy? How did it influence your career path and interest in ICT and data privacy?
The CCNA course was instrumental in shaping my current career trajectory. It provided me with a deep understanding of information and its related technologies, which has proven invaluable in my work as a Digital Accessibility Fellow at KICTANet. My background in Biomedical Science and Technology initially led me towards the intersection of human and ICT, and the CCNA course helped me to further explore this area.
I am now fully immersed in advocating for the seamless co-existence of human and technology, particularly regarding the intersection of ICT, data privacy and human rights. It’s a vital area that I’m proud to be a part of.
2.What prompted you to transition into data privacy and ICT accessibility after completing the CCNA course? How do these two fields intersect in your work and advocacy?
I had an encounter with real-life discrimination on disability. An experience I never wish anyone to go through. As such my life mission changed to demystifying disability. And with CCNA skills, there is no better place to start than in the digital space.
To make a difference in promoting accessibility, it’s crucial to have a deep understanding of the core pillars of inclusion, including data privacy and human rights principles like disability rights and inclusive developments. To effectively advocate for inclusion, it’s important to be aware of both local and international guidelines and to work from within the system to effect change. Building my advocacy capacity has been a key part of my journey towards creating a more inclusive world.
3.As someone championing ICT accessibility and data privacy awareness, what do you see as the most significant ICT accessibility and privacy challenges facing individuals with disabilities in Kenya today?
Lack of inclusion is what we will term the elephant in the room. It is the greatest barrier to the participation of persons with disability in the ICT space. It silences their voice on the need for accessibility. It shadows their abilities and societal contribution, confining them to the charity models of disability.The issue of digital literacy is cross-cutting to all citizens. For the digital literacy programs running, how many are inclusive? How many offer reasonable accommodations to learners with disabilities? How many are specially dedicated to learners that may face challenges keeping pace with the mainstream models?
Another challenge to ICT accessibility is the lack of assistive devices and technology. You see, these devices and technology are what a steering wheel is to a car, in regard to persons with disability. Some may be as simple as an enlarged screen mouse pointer, but they go a long way in determining the quality of information that persons with disabilities consume.
On privacy challenges, the biggest hurdle is awareness. We have seen so many programs running data privacy awareness but most of them are informed by what I will call standardized or “normalized” data. What others call “Ableism”. They fail to understand that approximately 15% of their target audience has a form of disability and they may need information that best identifies with them. It is not appropriate to talk about the impact of AI on personal data and privacy, while the AI models are only trained with data from non-disabled individuals.
A few days ago the ODPC(Office of Data Protection Commissioner) issued a statement cautioning Kenyans against the data being sourced by the WorldCoin. Curiously, I am yet to see a statement from the company on how the Orb works with the blind. Are they excluded? Then what next?
4.Website accessibility is crucial for people with disabilities. Could you share some key issues you’ve encountered regarding accessibility in websites and digital services in Kenya, and how you are addressing them?
At KICTANet under its Digital Accessibility program, My team and I developed a scorecard on the Accessibility of Kenyan Government Websites to Persons with Disabilities. Some websites did great like the National Council for Persons with Disabilities and the National Gender and equality commission. Congratulations to them! Others performed poorly, but they can improve.
Shockingly, the audio description, one of the key indicators that we were rating the websites against, was missing in all the websites. Its national rating was 0.0%. This can mean a lot, but one thing is for sure, it was deliberately omitted. Its effect is expecting the blind to follow what is happening in a video lacking description.
The call for inclusion kept cropping up. Persons with disabilities want to be involved. They want to participate in ICT policies, guidelines on digital accessibility and take part in the implementation of the standards. They want their voice to be heard and their input to be acknowledged. These challenges affect us notwithstanding our diverse disabilities. So the first step in mitigating the digital barriers is creating awareness within the disability communities and society as a whole. A gospel I preach so well.
Secondly, at KICTANet, matters of disability are only done with persons with disability. The policies they want are best formulated by them. The accessibility guidelines they want are best set by them. A living testimony of multistakeholderism. A “nothing for us without us” approach.
5.In your opinion, how can companies and organizations better prioritize and implement website accessibility and data privacy measures in their operations?
The best efficient and proven way of implementing website accessibility is ensuring websites are accessible right from the initiation and development stage. Let it be part of the design. Let it be within every iteration and incremental development.
There are well-skilled and experienced developers with disabilities. Involve them. Their expertise and live experience could come in handy.
On data privacy, What does the ODPC say about data collection and processing? It is not different for persons with disability. Let companies and organizations adhere to the guidelines.Let them be clear on the type of data they are collecting and the reason for collecting it.Do not ask me for an extra set of data just because you saw me using a cratch, white cane or wheelchair unless such data is necessary and you have clearly stated.
Persons with a disability have a right to consent to data collection and processing. They have to ensure their terms and conditions are well understood, and they can understand my acceptance or rejection of their request (in text, braille, sign language, audio or video formats).
6.As an ICT accessibility and data privacy advocate, what steps are you taking to raise awareness about accessibility and data protection and privacy rights in Kenya, especially for marginalized communities like people with disabilities?
I stand for our digital rights as persons with disabilities. The best way I am doing this is by making sure our voice is heard and our inputs considered. This is necessitated by engaging relevant stakeholders key among them being persons with disabilities.
Through KICTANet our program on Digital Accessibility works directly with Persons with Disabilities in Kenya towards influencing their access to ICTs as well as their lived experiences and their input towards ICT policy in Kenya. This is walking the talk on inclusion.
7.Tell us about one of your successful initiatives or projects related to data privacy or website accessibility. How did it impact the community you serve?
My first credit goes to the scorecard on the accessibility of government websites. It offered an opportunity to experience first-hand the challenges that individuals with various disabilities face on digital platforms. It now stands to inform evidence-based policies to foster inclusive digital services. I have also had the opportunity to attend and contribute to the global Internet Governance Forum in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia as a Kenyan delegate under KICTANet.Locally I take every opportunity possible to ensure our voices are heard. I do this on social media, blogs, events like Edutech Summit, mainstream media and locally through capacity building and community services.
8.In your view, what role should the government, private sector, and civil society play in promoting data privacy and website accessibility for people with disabilities in Kenya?
The government has the policies, laws and regulations that if well implemented can ensure digital inclusivity where website accessibility falls in. What is lacking is adherence to these legal frameworks by the same public institutions and the private sector. Putting that into play would be their greatest contribution. Next in line is civil society. They are mostly close to the people and best placed to promote digital accessibility to the community via dedicated efforts in capacity building and empowerment.
9.Are there any specific policy changes or legal reforms that you believe would significantly improve data privacy and ICT accessibility for people with disabilities in the country?
Have we tested and exhausted the existing ones to warrant more reforms?
That aside, we do not have policies directly addressing data protection and privacy for persons with disabilities. Technology is fast-paced, are we going to catch up with it?
10. How do you measure the impact of your advocacy work? Can you share some positive outcomes that demonstrate the progress made in promoting data privacy and website accessibility in Kenya?
I wish I could get a direct reply to my work from persons with disabilities 😂. My work is about us. The change I am calling for is for us. My pleasure is seeing the ever-increasing conversation on inclusivity, seeing more persons with disability adopt technology and the continuing efforts by different stakeholders to promote digital accessibility
11.As a champion for website accessibility, what advice would you give to web developers and designers to ensure their websites are more inclusive and user-friendly for people with disabilities?
It’s important to understand that accessibility isn’t just a request or preference, it’s a necessity. At some point, everyone will require accessibility features when online, whether it’s due to a temporary or permanent disability. It’s crucial to prioritize accessibility and not treat it as an afterthought. By doing so, we can create a more inclusive online environment for everyone.