Taxing Disability in a Digital World

by | Jul 20, 2020 | ICT4D |

In her house, Joy can move easily as she slides along the floor. She jokes at her ‘efficiency’ as she calls it, ‘I clean every time I move.’ She makes her way to door, where her chariot awaits. That’s what she calls her wheelchair. Her ‘chariot’ helps her get to and from the shops, but it’s slow and bumpy as the roads are without tarmac. ‘My chariot is a fair weather beast,’ she says looking at me, ‘it don’t work in rainy season!’ her head goes back as she cackles with laughter. She lives up to her name no doubt.

Joy counts herself as one of the lucky ones. ‘My hands work, so I can use my phone like you.’

The shops, some wooden, some concrete, are like market stalls. But all of them I need to step up into. Sometimes 3 or 4 steps. This makes sense in the rainy season as it prevents flooding. However, it also prevents Joy from ever getting in. When we talk about it, a little glint appears in her eye. ‘Ah but you forget my dear, my voice still works, so I can get the shopkeeper to come out of the shop to help me. If he takes to long to come, I block the entrance so no one else can get in and keep on yelling till he comes out.’

I smile. She is a force to be reckoned with.

Unsurprisingly, people living with disabilities have worse access to services including mobile services than people living without disabilities. The recent report from GSMA highlights this gap. Additionally, if you are a woman you’re even worse off. None of this is news to Joy, it is her lived reality everyday. The report helps us see the other ‘Joys’.

The research did not look at people with significant mental or intellectual disability for a number of reasons. However, we can likely assume their access is worse still.

Joy is an amazing woman and we need more ‘Joys’ in our lives. And yet, we need more inclusive societies. Communities where Joy can thrive and there are no barriers. As Joy says, ‘In the big picture, my struggle is minor compared to many others. My legs don’t work, but I still have my laughter. If it were my hands, no phone would work for me. Not one I could afford.’

We can talk about digital transformation all we want, but unfortunately it often is still just for the privileged. And yes, obviously digital transformation includes more than just the technology and the shiny device. If we make ‘accessible’ devices, systems, solutions, and buildings, shops, etc. more expensive then we are simply taxing the vulnerable of communities.

Is that the community you want to be a part of? The choice is up to us.

Photo by Eye for Ebony


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