The Three As – Availability, Accessibility & Affordability

Whenever we think about poverty, we know that there are many definitions and discussions surrounding this concept, but I will share with you the idea of Amartya Sen. He defines poverty as the capacity an individual has to live his/her life in meaningfulness based on the requirement that “all human beings must have a minimum level of food intake, shelter, education and health to function as humans”.

For many poor people to have access to ICTs is quite complex if the minimum level as described above is not satisfied. For disabled people living in poverty is far more difficult and complex since many are in need of services that are difficult to obtain such as access to disability-specialized health care and education. In the pre-discussions of the post-2015 development agenda, the ICT Opportunity for a Disability-Inclusive Development Framework was brought about by different stakeholders. This framework proposes indicators on how to measure impact of the new development agenda concerning the inclusion of disabled people and the following two indicators are quite striking:

  • Availability of accessible ICT products and services across markets
  • Affordability of ICTs for persons with disabilities

And now, the three As:

Although this was just a first framework, it provides interesting insights into ICT4D. Questions turning around the inclusion of disabled people in ICT4D need to focus at a larger scale around the availability, accessibility and affordability of ICTs.

Accessibility would then also refer to devices and products that fulfil the very varied needs of disabled people. To develop further on the thoughts from our former blog posts, accessibility is then also about trained people, who can assist disabled people in using products/services. In other words, it’s not only about purchasing or receiving a product from donors or projects or have accessible specialized services, but to be able to use them through training. Additionally, as Sinéad Burke in her TedTalk underlines, we need to question design concerning two major things when it comes to accessibility: who is this product/design accessible for and for whose needs it is not accommodated for?

Taking one step back, it’s not only about a proper design of accesible and affordable products and services, but about the campaigning/informing that such options exist. This would help to overcome the limitation of accessibility in which a lack of awareness of disabled people in disadvantaged conditions hinders them from benefitting from products and services available that are specially equipped for their needs. 

To further develop on SH’s blog post, we need to start with “giving the individual disabled person the choice to define his/her own approach to disability and subsequently his/her own goals of capabilities, [which] enables the use of ICT4D outcomes in real life” together with focusing on the factors of availability, accessibility and affordability of specialised ICTs.

These three As also point out power structures, profit-making interests and market structures that need to be overcome. Taking into consideration these market limitations, Malcom Johnson‘s quote taken from the end of the aforementioned framework is quite striking: “ITU’s standards are designed from inception to help achieve that goal – universal access to communications for everyone, with a focus on availability, and affordability. Globally standardized solutions increase market size, usability and interoperability, and reduce complexity and cost.”

So people with disabilities need to be able to define their own goals and to find matching ICTs to reach these goals, meaning inexpensive/free, specialized and accessible solutions. This presupposes that disabled people have knowledge about the different available solutions and trained people can facilitate its usage. Is this possible when the above mentioned minimum level is not even met in the lifes of many disabled people and what does it mean if ICTs are seen by many as THE solution for inclusion, but not all disabled people can benefit from them. Does it mean that there won’t be another solution for those that do not have access to specialized ICTs as they are not affordable or available or merely present as a one-fits-all solution that does not fit such a heterogeneous group? UNESCO states that “Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) have the potential for making significant improvements in the lives of persons with disabilities, allowing them to enhance their social, cultural, political and economic integration in communities by enlarging the scope of activities available to them”. It is important to use this potential to the fullest and to make sure that 1 billion people do not remain invisible.

It’s about defining the adequate starting point in which disabled people chose their development goals and ICT benefits, have access to them and can thus improve their conditions.

I am interested in hearing whether you have ideas, experiences or comments on the three As and the power they have on how disable people can create their future pathways?

What do you consider as the challenges in implementing the three As?

Written by JW

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