Digital Development for All: Leveraging Digital Accessibility in International Development
Audience: While this publication is primarily aimed at development agencies, it has wide utility for other development practitioners, government leaders from donor or recipient countries, implementing partners who work with IT managers or technology specialists to implement development programs with governments, civil society, and the private sector — all have a role to play in elevating ICT accessibility in their work.
General research question: How, and to what extent, are multilateral development agencies addressing digital inclusion for people with disabilities and older populations in their work?
- Policies: To what extent are national and multilateral development agencies adopting or including digital accessibility in internal policies? Do organizational priorities specifically reflect persons with disabilities and older persons as direct beneficiaries?
- Operations: To what extent are national and multilateral development agencies incorporating digital accessibility in active digital development programs?
- Keys to success and challenges: What are the main facilitators and/or barriers to fully embedding digital accessibility in internal policies or external operations?
- Examples of success: Which active digital development projects include digital accessibility effectively? Which active digital development projects currently do not explicitly mention people with disabilities and older persons as beneficiaries and could easily support their inclusion?
Methodology: The research for this project has been iterative, and we adapted the methodology to explore the complexity of a development agency’s motivations and challenges in adapting and operationalizing digital inclusion and accessibility in their policies and programs. We utilized a mixed methods approach to help us tackle the complexity of the issue.
- Findings are from 20 key informant interviews (KII/Delphi method), a field leader survey of over 140 stakeholders, and a review of over 1189 unique, active projects across 6 development agencies.
- Qualitative interviews expanded from an original scope of 11 to 20, representing a broad range of expertise at multiple levels, and across 12 multiple organizations (CAF, AfDB, InterAmericanDB, Asian DB, GIZ, DFiD, World Bank, Bank Information Center, UNICEF, UNESCO, USAID, and others)
- Development agencies do not work in isolation, and numerous people that we interviewed noted how this could be a constraint or an opportunity. Survey went out to 140 stakeholders working in technology, human rights, or development, and represented views from industry, government, and civil society.
- Reviewed over 1189 unique, active projects across 6 development agencies for language related to PWDs and older populations and found just 4% (N=48) contained this specific language. While this measure isn’t indicative of development agency commitment or even a full picture of efforts to address digital inclusion and accessibility for PWDs, lack of monitoring indicators inclusive of people with disabilities or disaggregate indicators by disability can limit assessments of if and how operations impact PWDs.
Insights for Improving Policies and Operations
- About 90% of development agencies that we spoke to have not yet prioritized digital inclusion. As a result, development efforts have not effectively operationalized accessibility in their internal policies and external projects.
- 95% of interviewed stakeholders noted that no explicit directives or policies exist to address digital accessibility within projects, 85% were not aware of any internal policies or directives aside from inclusive hiring practices.
- Analysis of project documents reveals that only 4% of active projects with a digital component across 6 development agencies include specific reference to people with disabilities and older populations.
- 75% of interviewed said they lacked knowledge and capacity to address such issues.
Keys to success and challenges: What are the main facilitators and/or barriers to fully embedding digital accessibility in internal policies or external operations?
- 95% said awareness was the most significant barrier. Without awareness, and with no means of operationalization, digital inclusion falls by the wayside in projects with a number of other mandatory considerations.
Leadership is essential, at every level.
Interviewees noted the need for directives to come from top levels of leadership — many noted that it was strong leadership that made the difference in addressing inclusivity and disability. However, a majority of interviewees noted that they were often at the mercy of country demands. Country demands, in turn, are influenced by the demands of civic society and the private sector, another tier where interviewees noted there was not yet much awareness and/or capacity.
- A number of common misconceptions exist regarding cost/value for money, size of target populations, misunderstanding about how other groups might benefit. 56% of practitioners working on ICT accessibility and digital inclusion noted that lack of funding was one of the most significant issues.
Nearly all interviewed practitioners mentioned a desire for a checklist or guidelines.
There is a role to play at multiple levels:
- raising awareness among development agency leaders and addressing misconceptions;
- develop government advocacy teams to engage country governments. A majority of interviewed leaders mentioned constraints at the country level, and that they primarily motivated to respond to demands; and
- raise awareness among civic society groups.
- 81% of respondents felt that the lack of awareness about accessible technology was the one of the most significant barriers to ensuring that ICT accessibility is deployed in international development programs.
- 58% felt that the lack of trained accessibility professionals was the one of the most significant barriers to ensuring that ICT accessibility is deployed in international development programs.
- 56% felt that limited financial resources were one of the most significant barriers to ensuring that ICT accessibility is deployed in international development programs.
- More than 2/3rds of respondents felt that clear guidelines for implementing ICT accessibility would most contribute to ensuring that development programs are fully accessible to persons with disabilities and older persons.
- 58% felt that a database of best-practices in design, management and execution would most contribute to ensuring that development programs are fully accessible to persons with disabilities and older persons.
- 58% felt that model policies for ICT accessibility would most contribute to ensuring that development programs are fully accessible to persons with disabilities and older persons.
- 77% of respondents agree that development programs can ensure ICT accessibility by involving persons with disabilities and older persons in the design and deployment of digital development initiatives.
- About 66% of respondents agree that development programs can ensure ICT accessibility by training technical and management teams in disability and ICT accessibility and a similar number felt that ICT procurement procedures in development programs should explicitly require accessibility.