ADVISORY

How NCC Will Succeed With Developmental Programme For Assistive Technology In Telecommunications-Benola Boss

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By Clifford Agugoesi, Editor-in-Chief

The news that independent telecommunications regulatory authority, the Nigerian Communications Commission(NCC), is coming up with a Developmental Programme For Assistive Technology In Telecommunications, has been welcomed by Nigerians Living With Disabilities and promoters of advocacy groups for those who fall within this bracket are not only excited but are advising the regulator on how to succeed with this bold initiative.  Assistive technology is a generic term that includes assistive, adaptive, and rehabilitative devices with a focus on facilitating communication. Modern electronic machines (hi-tech) have become the new way for many individuals to communicate.

Information on the Commission’s website(https://www.ncc.gov.ng) says the Commission will unveil this programme, which will hold virtually 10.00am on December 10, 2020.  Founder/CEO of Benola, a Cerelbral Palsy Initiative, AVM (Rtd) Femi Gbadebo told Cyber Era exclusively that the move by NCC is most welcome and timely.

Founder/CEO, Benola, AVM(Rtd) Femi Gbadebo.

Said  Gbadebo: “I see it as a very welcome development and infact one that is long overdue. If you recall at an ICT programme where  you and I met in 2012 at the Sheraon Hotel & Towers,  Lagos, south west, it was one of the things that I spelled out with the hope that NCC would see the need to direct Service Providers to make additional discount services available to Persons Living with Disabilities.

This is because such individuals depend heavily on these assistive devices like mobile telephone handsets for communications, for example, for persons who are visually impaired, it is one of their major means of communication to the world in terms of voice and data.

But the same thing applies to everybody who is stuck at home, because of their disability or who have difficulty in moving around, particularly in this day and age when we have to deal with the lockdown occasioned by the coronavirus(COVID-19) pandemic and so on. It has become a thing like the laptop, phone, people can use to communicate with them and because of the high dependence on these devices, these individuals end up using a lot of airtime and a lot of data.”

On how to make the NCC programme a huge success, the retired Airforce Officer stated that the first step is for NCC, with the help of the Telecom Service Providers, to identify these individuals ‘and we are talking about 26 million Nigerians living with different kinds of disability.’

Said he: “If they can be properly identify them, then some form of discount can be provided to ensure that they are able to constantly keep in touch with the outside world despite their disability.”

How might this programme affect the Assistive Technology Industry and Disability Advocacy Groups like Benola?

Gbadebo explained: “Again,  apart from individuals living with disabilities, those of us who are involved in Advocacy work about disabilities rely heavily on social media platforms to get our messages out, such as Instagram, Twitter,  Facebook and a few other platforms out there, and that requires a lot of data.

We also use various technology devices, Desktops, Laptops, Handsets, Pads etc, to get this information out there,  so if I use Benola as an example, we are a small group but even at that, our data consumption per month is in the range of Naira 70k to N100K(US$185.58-US$265.12), which is, aside from what we spend on voice and SMS charges. So definitely, we could do with some discount and free services to enable us connect better with more Cerebral Palsy(CP) Families and Adults out there.

“The other thing is that the cost of the high quality devices is too high so you find most  families at the low end of the financial market using poor quality devices that cannot access the internet.

So, we desperately need to create a situation where the services providers partner with the business community to make cheaper, but quality technology devices available to Special People.

We are at the time now where remote communication platforms like Zoom, Skype,  have become the world’s meeting place, but the demand in terms of data is way out of reach of the average person.

I just think that a proper engagement and involvement in coming up with more accessible equipment and better pricing of services is how NCC can help.

You see,  if NCC does not drive this, service providers whose aim is to maximize profit,  will keep pushing for higher rates which will make things extremely difficult for our Special People.”

On the challenges of advocacy groups for persons living with disabilities, and how programmes such as is being planned by NCC, might help in their resolution? the Founder/CEO of Benola said their major challenges are in the areas of cost of airtime, data and software.

He explained further: “Canvassing for support and online counseling which are in high demand these days cost money and quality graphic images and videos demand loads of data to upload. Added to that is the cost of good quality gadgets which we have to install in the office and make available to staff in order to keep the message constantly in the public space.

“We have a lot of adults living with disabilities like Cerebral Palsy and Parents who will love to be involved in what is going on. For example, we recently hosted a programme  Saturday, a forthnight ago, where we wanted parents to come and interact, but to our surprise and at the last minute, some parents raised the issues of distance and suggested that we host the event online. Sadly, it was too late for that, and you know what, it certainly would have been more cost effective for everyone, especially those outside Lagos .

“So, we decided to take a survey the Monday after the exercise to see how many of them, (we have like 200 parents on our WhatsApp platform), can access the internet for an online meeting and sadly, we discovered that less than 8 per cent of them have the capacity and are IT savvy to be able to do that.”

So, there is great need, says, Gbadebo, for training and this is “where we need NCC to partner with us, support training programmes for families and adults living with disabilities and task Telecom Service Providers to work in partnership with NGO’s like us to put these kind of programmes in place and also provide assistive devices to the people who so desperately need them.

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