Post report: Leadership Training – Internet Governance for Persons with Disabilities in Pakistan – 26-28 December 2023

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The Disability Leadership Training on Internet Governance for Persons with Disabilities in Pakistan, conducted from December 26 to December 28, 2023, at the Ramada Hotel Islamabad, was a landmark event organized by Pathfinder Solutions in partnership with the Internet Society Accessibility Standing Group and the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA).

The workshop aimed to empower individuals with disabilities to become leaders in advocating for accessibility, digital rights, and fostering an inclusive Internet governance landscape. A diverse group of 20 participants, including those with visual, physical, hearing and cerebral palsy impairments, engaged in a highly interactive program covering key topics such as internet governance, key stakeholders, accessibility, privacy and cybersecurity, opportunities in Internet Governance, Pakistan’s digital ecosystem, and the role of individuals with disabilities in shaping internet governance policies.

The event took place at the accessible venue of the Ramada Hotel Islamabad, with sign language interpreters and assistants ensuring the inclusivity of all participants. The workshop’s success was attributed to seamless logistical arrangements, including travel support, accommodation, and stipends for participants from various regions.

The Chairman of PTA as the Chief Guest at the certificate award ceremony, added distinction to the event. The workshop’s findings emphasized the importance of continued efforts to empower individuals with disabilities, and recommendations include the continuation and expansion of similar training programs, forging partnerships, enhancing outreach strategies, and integrating more hands-on activities.

Read the Post Training Report (pdf)

The Dhaka Declaration on Disability Leadership in Digital Rights and Internet Governance


logosBetween 24 and 27 June 2022, the Asia Pacific School of Internet Governance (APSIG) in partnership with the Internet Society Accessibility Standing Group organized the first Disability Leadership Training Workshop in Digital Rights and Internet Governance in Dhaka, with support from local hosts Internet Society Bangladesh Chapter, plus Article 19 and the APNIC Foundation.

Invited participants from Bangladesh, India, Nepal, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka, subsequently issued the Dhaka Declaration advocating core principles for the participation of persons with disability in Internet-related decision-making processes.

  1. The ratification and implementation of international instruments such as the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, Marrakesh VIP Treaty  and the UN Sustainable Development Goals (as related to persons with disability) in our region
  2. The commitment by Governments to make ICT and the digital environment in our countries accessible for persons with disability by formulating and implementing legislation and regulation in accordance with the international instruments. This includes making e-government services accessible adhering to the current version of W3C’s Web Content Accessibility Guidelines. This commitment should be enforced by the governments with designated trained staff as well as reasonable financial resources. Furthermore, research and development in accessible technology is to be supported for low cost availability of digital products to persons with disability.
  3. Making educational facilities and curriculum at all levels accessible through an equal delivery mechanism. Developing and delivering university courses on digital accessibility.
  4. Providing an enabling environment facilitated by accessible digital resources in the public and private sector for creating employment opportunities for people with disability.
  5. Businesses and the private sector making their online services accessible and adhering to the current version of W3C’s Web Content Accessibility Guidelines.
  6. International donor agencies and IGOs providing accessible technologies, both hardware and software, to people with disability in their developing country programs. This includes training in the effective and safe use of the Internet.
  7. The accessibility of communication, advertisement and public messaging through the provision of alternate formats and the use of inclusive design.
  8. Internet Governance organizations welcoming people with disability to their deliberations, ensuring that their programs and communications are accessible, thereby enabling people with disability to participate proactively and productively in order to project their voices in global, regional and national Internet Governance processes.

Further activity (Capacity building roll-outs in 6 countries, tentatively during Oct 2022 – Mar 2023) is planned, wherein the leadership group from the Dhaka Workshop will work with their local communities to further engage with Internet Governance and related topics.

WebAim 2022 Web accessibility report


WEBAIMFor the fourth consecutive year, WebAIM conducted an accessibility evaluation of the home pages for the top 1,000,000 web sites. The evaluation was conducted using the WAVE stand-alone API (with additional tools to collect site technology and sector parameters). The results provide an overview of and insight into the current state of web accessibility for individuals with disabilities and trends over time.

Read the report


REPORT: Accessibility SIG Global Accessibility Awareness Day Webinar

Register on Zoom

On Thursday May 28 2020, the Internet Society Accessibility Special Interest Group (A11ySIG) hosted a webinar “When rhetoric meets reality: Digital Accessibility, Persons With Disabilities and COVID-19”. This webinar brought together digital accessibility experts and people with disabilities to discuss the digital accessibility outlook beyond COVID-19.


It was our hope that this webinar would share and offer a variety of ideas from different disabilities and different parts of the world. Below are a couple of perspectives that relate to North America and elsewhere.

David Berman gave the keynote focusing on how governments can integrate accessibility into their web presence. He talked about the efforts that Canada and others are doing on accessibility issues. People in health care designed special masks for deaf people. They have a clear shield so people can read others lips to communicate. However, everyone benefits when we can see each other’s mouths when we’re wearing masks, whether we’re hard of hearing or whether we’re deaf and using sign language which of course the faces a key part of the communication, everyone finds it easier to understand each other when we can see the emotions and the movements that make up more of the face. It is an example of the overall goal that all should have. We need to design for the extremes and in this way benefit everyone. This principle is a core of the experience in design that we need to focus on. If we can make sure that all websites are accessible and follow WCAG guidelines than Governments will save money as they would not have to hire special firms to answer phone lines and have special lines that read people texts and walk people through the forms. People could self-serve. If we make sure everyone can self-serve, we’re actually able to save millions of dollars. This type of thinking, what we like to call the accessibility dividend when we do things to include everyone, we get benefits for everyone.

The webinar included seven panelists representing different disabilities and countries. The panelists highlighted a number of issues related to digital accessibility including: If an approach can work in one small community, it can be replicated in many other local, regional, and national governments. The right ingredients need to be in place. That’s policy, practice, and people. Formulating right policies with inclusion of people with disabilities and then practicing those with people centric approach could be a winning strategy. This is where rhetoric meets policy. Once people understand why digital accessibility is important through direct contact with persons with disabilities there’s a greater incentive to make a change. We need more disability awareness training.

Another speaker, Peter Crosbie, focused on cognitive disabilities and how they are often overlooked by companies who instead just focus on visual or hearing disabilities; there is often no mention anywhere of what specific cognitive access measures they have incorporated to help out people with cognitive disabilities. He mentioned that Zoom calls with many speakers and participants are in actuality very inaccessible for many people with cognitive disabilities. There’s just very little understanding of what cognitive access is or how it works.

The goal of Accessibility SIG in this webinar was to discuss and raise awareness of these issues. We will have six other webinars in this series, so stay tuned.

Moving Beyond Rhetoric: Towards a Digitally Inclusive and Accessible Pakistan for PWDs

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By Muhammad Shabbir Awan

The 2018 Pakistan IT Policy titled Digital Pakistan envisions “to become a strategic enabler for an accelerated digitization eco system to expand the knowledge based economy and spur socio economic growth”. We felt that with 10-15 percent of country’s population consisting of Persons With Disabilities (PWDs) and over 95 percent of inaccessible websites, this vision would remain just rhetoric unless we do something about it. The answer, “make websites accessible for PWDs” seems easier said than done. Nonetheless, I am pleased to report that we have taken another significant step towards making ‘Digital Pakistan’ inclusive and accessible for everyone including PWDs.

The Internet Society Asia Pacific Bureau, supported by the ISOC Accessibility Special Interest Group (Accessibility-SIG) and Islamabad Chapter organized a 3-days advanced training on web accessibility from 21st to 23rd October 2019. For this purpose, internationally reputed expert on web accessibility David Berman was invited to organize the training.

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Government departments, particularly Ministry of IT, National IT Board and National Incubation Center, were incremental in organizing this event. About 50 webmasters a majority from the government, people with disabilities, and private sectors participated in the training.

The three-days extensive program covered a variety of topics related to digital accessibility that included but was not limited to: introduction to accessibility; why and how accessibility helps everyone and not just those with disabilities; how accessibility will help project budgets; what are the major disabilities and challenges, how most of us have some level of difficulty that can be assisted by accessible design, and assistive technologies we can typically use to mitigate these issues; national and international policy and legislation; overview of W3C WCAG 2 guidelines A and AA levels; PDF and accessible documents overview, including accessible tags; understanding of how enterprise-wide development processes can save money and time; Javascript accessibility; testing tools for Web pages and documents; accessibility checklists; auditing models for page frameworks and specific pages; case studies walkthrough, including existing government websites; and advanced issues that are beyond AA, application and beyond Web and documents.

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The purpose of the training was three-fold: first, train the developers to make the websites accessible for PWDs and according to Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.1 standards. Second, to prepare local team of developers that is well versed in digital accessibility standards. Third, gather digital experts from Government, private sector and PWDs under one roof to start discussing to find practicable solutions to accessibility-related challenges in Pakistan.

trainees studying

To recall, over the past 4 years the Internet Society has been working on Digital Accessibility issues in Pakistan. This work has resulted in involvement, success and support from the government and local community, including People with Disabilities, to address the digital accessibility challenges in the country. One of the key successful outcomes of our efforts was the Ministry of IT taking PWDs on board as a stakeholder while formulating the aforementioned Digital Pakistan policy that was announced in 2018. With this training we wanted to build capacity of the government webmasters to develop accessible websites. In the concluding session of the training, Member IT of the Ministry of IT, Syed Junaid Imam, who was invited as keynote speaker reassured that all the government of Pakistan websites would be made accessible. He also informed the audience that MOIT is developing the strategy to implement the national IT policy and this time too, the input from people with disabilities will be incorporated in the document.

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The cases of Digital Pakistan policy and the current training on one hand show that Pakistan is incrementally moving to make internet truly for everyone, and on the other, proves that solutions to the digital accessibility related issues for PWDs can only be found with their own involvement. Meaning, nothing about us without us! Moreover, now when with the help of civil society the government of Pakistan has formulated the guidelines, the training has been provided to the webmasters, the next step is to translate the rhetoric (policy guidelines) into action! The ISOC Accessibility-SIG is ready to support in whatever way it can. I am sure that together we can ensure the websites not only of the government but also of the private sector are accessible for PWDs. Accessible internet for PWDs would bring us another step closer to fulfilling the objective of leaving no one behind by 2030.

About the author: Muhammad Shabbir Awan is a researcher, a rights activist and the President of Internet Society Accessibility SIG. He tweets at @MshabirAwan

Experience Sharing: the National Federation of the Blind Annual Convention 2019

(In July 2019 A11ySIG President Muhammad Shabbir Awan attended  the NFB convention in Las Vegas – this is his report)

Betting is an uncertain business and some may consider “sure bet” as an oxymoronic statement, however, at Mandalay Bay Resort and casino in Las Vegas, Nevada from 7th to 12th of July 2019, there was sure bet that one would find determined blind people, as well as skills, information, awareness and experience about blindness. Said to bring the world’s largest annual gathering of people with blindness together, The American National Federation of the Blind (NFB) 2019 convention proved to me that it was much more than I had read, heard and/or imagined. I am thankful for the support of Internet Society that enabled me to experience this wonderful 2019 convention from July seventh to twelth. I am also thankful to Mr. Sultan Shah and Mr. Usman for their wonderful company during this trip. No doubt, this convention made a tremendous impression on me.

The life  philosophy of NFB is: “The National Federation of the Blind knows that blindness is not the characteristic that defines you or your future. Every day we raise the expectations of blind people, because low expectations create obstacles between blind people and our dreams. You can live the life you want; blindness is not what holds you back. The National Federation of the Blind is not an organization speaking for the blind–it is the blind speaking for ourselves.” This is the message that I would hear, see and experience for the whole duration of the convention. This experience would make it worth over 26 hours long flight, disturbance in bodyclock due to time zone difference, and travel all the way from Pakistan to Las Vegas.

Situated at the beginning of the world-famous Las Vegas strip, Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino was the perfect location for enjoyment, networking, learning, conference activities, all of the above and more too! Graceful, confident people with blindness wove their way through crowded lobbies and hallways using their canes or guide dogs effortlessly. Mandalay Bay had more than two dozen restaurants and activities for people of all ages to enjoy. Among its features is an aquatic playground called Mandalay Bay Beach which has real sand, a wave pool, and rentable cabanas. The fun part was that Wherever I went in these six days, be it the middle of the day or night, I would find people with blindness enjoying and groping through their way.

I see that many of the rough places have been made smooth by these heroic pioneers.

I found myself attending meetings of many groups and divisions. The six-day agenda was full of seminars, workshops and sessions on a variety of topics related to blindness. The topics included but are not limited to: education, science and engineering, technology, research, yoga, self-defence, sports and recreation, and many more. The convention also had sessions on tactile graphics, accessible art, and bringing more STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art, and mathematics) into blind people’s lives. For me, the sessions related to accessible technology particularly live presentations by the accessibility teams of Apple, Microsoft and Freedom Scientific as well as discussions with the people from these companies on sidelines were really interesting and fruitful.

As an International Relations (IR) researcher and professional, for me, the research and academic professional’s meeting to discuss current research, issues that blind people face in research and share ideas for increasing the research and academic presence of the NFB was of particular interest. I, as an IR student and professional, particularly loved the NFB Newsline service that offers hundreds of American and international newspapers and magazines to people with blindness in accessible formats. The only disappointment I faced at the convention was that I could not be subscribed to this wonderful service as I was not a resident of any US state.

Nonetheless, I was able to gain a lot of knowledge and awareness from the meetings. I learned about forms of discrimination and access barriers that blind people have faced, and how the NFB helps overcome these issues. For example, I learned that the NFB has fought for blind people who have faced low expectations from teachers and lacked necessary accommodations to gain the same knowledge as their sighted counterparts. At convention, I learned about technologies intended to help overcome access barriers, such as the awesome development of a braille display that makes images tactile. I also learned about Aira, a new technology that helps blind people have easier access to information. Meanwhile, I also took the opportunities to introduce the ISOC Accessibility SIG to the participants and ran a member recruitment campaign too.

The exhibit hall was also one of my favorite attraction places. It opened the prospect for me to meet and speak with representatives from about fifty companies and organizations that produce, market and/or disseminate training in these tools. It was wonderful to get my hands on so many tools for the blind all in one place. For anyone who wants to do some comparison shopping before purchasing a piece of access technology, this is definitely a prime opportunity. The devices that excited me most were: a Bluetooth refreshable Braille display with a note-taking feature built in; and Optical Character Recognition Glasses (OCR Glasses). I plan to purchase one as soon as I can. At the same time, the NFB Independence Market provided the opportunity to handle, test, and learn to use blindness and low-vision tools including accessible games, household items, watches, calculators, and more.

In summary, for me, the convention was a blast! From the moment I entered the hotel, to the second I left, I was participating in exhilarating activities. Regardless of whether I was at General Session or out to lunch with my friends, I was having a delightful time. I have been to number of international conferences with thousands of participants, I also knew that successful blind people existed, but I never witnessed such a large gathering of blind people in my life—over 3000 people registered for the event. With all of this in mind, I would definitely recommend that everyone who is blind or visually impaired try to go to an NFB convention. There is so much to experience and so many great people to meet. However, I do have one word of caution regarding convention: Sleep may be hard to come by. There is so much to do that getting the normal six to eight hours of sleep per night may not be possible.

Lastly, I understand that people with blindness or other disabilities face difficulties in every society, in developing countries more than in the developed world. However, before convention, I was unaware of the extent of inequality that the blind community may face in all aspects of life. The fact that people are getting paid less simply because they are blind, or having their children taken away because close-minded individuals say, “How could blind people raise children?” is absurd. To be honest, I have personally faced little discrimination and few access barriers thus far in my life. I was shocked to hear about the terrible ways in which blind people have been slighted, and times when they had been cheated out of opportunities and experiences. I believe that continuing the fight to overcome discrimination and access barriers is extremely important. Probably the most important lesson I learned is that blind people all over the world are facing challenges, but despite this, they are overcoming these barriers and getting the degrees, finding the jobs and having the experiences they want. In other words, they are living the lives they want!

Muhammad Shabbir Awan is the President of Internet Society Accessibility SIG and can be contacted at: Email and Twitter.