How to improve digital inclusion and accessibility for girls with disabilities

Girls and young women with disabilities face more barriers to digital inclusion compared to their peers, as the gender gap in digital adoption is amplified at the intersection with disability. To drive inclusion, it is essential to design accessible environments in collaboration with People with Disabilities (PWDs) so that barriers may be removed and replaced with enablers for access and participation. This is important when thinking about digital spaces and the need for digital accessibility and inclusive design. This guide highlights best practices in the inclusion and accessibility of digital solutions for PWDs, particularly girls. It aims to support developers and implementers of digital products and services, so that girls and young women with disabilities may benefit from digital services and platforms, according to a latest publication by UNICEF. To drive inclusion, it is essential to design accessible environments in collaboration with people with disabilities so that barriers may be removed and replaced with enablers for access and participation. This is important when thinking about digital spaces and the need for digital accessibility and inclusive design. This guide highlights best practices in the inclusion and accessibility of digital solutions for persons with disabilities, particularly girls. It aims to support developers and implementers of digital products and services, so that girls and young women with disabilities may benefit from digital services and platforms.

The UNICEF Gender and Technology 2023 report says girls and young women with disabilities face more barriers to digital inclusion compared to their peers, as the gender gap in digital adoption is amplified at the intersection with disability. Women and girls with disabilities are less likely to use a mobile phone or smartphone, because of challenges in digital access, accessibility, and usability. In addition, they generally have fewer opportunities to develop digital knowledge and skills and are less likely to understand mobile devices, their benefits, and how to use phone accessibility features. Accessibility features are functions built-in to digital devices that can help improve the user experience for people with disabilities (screen reader, magnified content, video subtitles, or control of the device with voice commands). Persons with disabilities are not all the same. Impairments can be classified as physical, sensory, psychosocial, learning, and intellectual – some may be present from birth, while others may be acquired as the result of illness or injury. While impairments are often associated with restriction, people are generally “disabled” by attitudes and behaviors, as well as design that does not consider the diversity of human experience. The publication says People with Disabilities should be engaged in every phase of digital solution development. However, in many countries, girls (and boys) with disabilities are often invisible – they may be at home, live in institutions, and not participate in school or social activities. Developing relationships with local organizations whose members and beneficiaries are persons with disabilities will help reach girls with disabilities. These may be organizations of persons with disabilities (OPDs) or social enterprises and non-profit organizations focused on disability inclusion. Note that OPDs vary greatly. They may represent diverse groups or impairment-specific groups; they can be local, national, regional, or international; and they may operate as individual or umbrella organizations. The golden rule for interacting with someone who has a disability is the same as interacting with anyone else – treat the person with kindness and respect and when in doubt, always ask. Every person with a disability has an individual experience of how their impairments affect them. It is important not to make assumptions about how they want to be treated and to ask what they need to participate. Ensure information is accessible and uses appropriate, respectful, inclusive, and contextual language to describe disability and individuals with disabilities. Using the right terminology in written and oral communications can empower people with disabilities; using outdated and inappropriate terms will reinforce prejudice and discrimination.  To create an inclusive solution, content that is accessible and relevant to the target audience, including those with disabilities, is essential.  The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) sets the standard for web and digital content accessibility. The underlying principles of the WCAG are that content must be perceivable, operable, understandable, and robust (compatible with browsers, assistive technologies, and app requirements).

Source: UNICEF