South African-based mobile phone company Vodacom announced today that it has partnered with GSMA to drive the digital inclusion of persons with disabilities.
Today, on International Day of Persons with Disabilities (IDPD), GSMA Assistive Tech has launched the ‘Principles for driving digital inclusion of people with disabilities,’ a framework for action aimed at increasing the digital inclusion of people with disabilities.
“Vodacom’s vision of connecting everyone for a better future has enabled Vodacom to embrace the digital inclusion of consumers with disabilities for more than a decade. We are excited to join the GSMA’s Assistive Tech Programme by becoming a signatory of the newly launched Principles for driving digital inclusion of persons with disabilities,” says Shameel Joosub, Chief Executive Officer of Vodacom Group.
“The principles will play an important role to ensure that mobile operators implement accessibility strategies that promote the digital inclusion of disabled consumers. Vodacom continues to remain committed to play our part to ensure disabled persons become part of a connected society.”
The mobile disability gap is not going to close on its own and targeted intervention is needed to address the barriers faced by persons with disabilities.
For the estimated 15% of the world’s population (1 billion) who live with some form of disability, around 90% do not have adequate access to the Assistive Technologies (ATs) they require. The lack of access to AT limits the capacity for people to live healthy, productive, independent and dignified lives; and to access healthcare, education, the labour market and civic life.
“Research has shown that when disabled persons become users of technology, it increases their independence and participation in society. In a developing country like South Africa, disabled persons continue to be marginalised and excluded from societal activities,” says Joosub.
“This includes experiencing potential barriers when accessing MNOs technology and services. Realising disabled consumers’ challenges, we have established an Accessibility Office that is responsible to drive the digital inclusion of disabled consumers.
“The Office, together with various operational divisions, works closely to create accessible solutions that meet the needs of disabled persons. We have launched a range of accessible products including text-based emergency services for deaf consumers and accessible contact centres.”
Embracing disability inclusion within all levels of the organisation
As part of Vodacom’s commitment to provide staff living with disabilities access to programmes, tools, and technologies they require, the Disability Employee Forum was established, consisting of both staff living with disabilities and their family members. The Forum has been designed to raise awareness and co-create disability policies and processes.
Vodacom is an equal opportunities employer, which means it actively encourages and welcomes people with various disabilities to apply. The company has recently implemented human resource policies, such as the Reasonable Accommodation and Disability Disclosure Policies, to encourage employees to bring attention to their disability and receive the assistance they need.
Digital innovation can bridge the gap within the workplace through Assistive Technologies and promote the inclusion of persons living with disabilities. Accommodating staff with specific needs and focusing on each individual’s ability empowers them to reach their full potential.
Understanding how to better serve people with disabilities
Led by Vodacom’s accessibility experts, the Accessibility Office is underpinned by equality, digital inclusion, human rights, the Sustainable Development Goals and most importantly, the principle that no one is left behind. This forms Vodacom’s connection to the disability market and ensures a high-quality customer experience for those living with disabilities through well-designed, end-to-end products and services.
There are 1 billion people living with disabilities globally, of which 80% are within the working age group. However, only 4% of businesses focus on consumers with disabilities.
Just like anybody else, those living with disabilities pay for products and services and therefore expect exceptional customer service that caters to their needs. Mobile phones are invaluable assets in the day-to-day lives of people with disabilities, which is why Vodacom provides easy access to a range of offerings that are suitable for persons with various disabilities.
Delivering inclusive products and services for those living with disabilities
Vodacom’s range of mobile products, such as the Alcatel 2019G series are specifically designed for those with low vision and senior citizens. Vodacom offers customers who are Deaf and hearing-impaired data and SMS-only contract deals on smart phones to avoid unnecessary voice costs. Furthermore, special discounted contract deals are provided to all other persons with disabilities.
As part of its continued commitment to connecting the most vulnerable citizens and removing barriers for all, Vodacom offers exclusive channels for Deaf and hearing-impaired customers to access emergency services. The 112 Emergency Service App enables users to contact the ER24 Emergency Contact Centre that is available 24 hours a day while the Vodacom SMS Emergency Service allows registered customers to request emergency services by sending an SMS.
Additionally, the emergency services link, for people with communications barriers, has been included on Vodacom’s zero-rated ConnectU platform. This is to ensure all segments of our market are able to access these potentially lifesaving services.
“Our commitment is to ensure that we further understand how to reach and better serve people with disabilities by 2022 – this means we will investigate how we can better collect data to develop insights about how our disabled consumers use technology and service – having better insights will strengthen our ability to develop more relevant products and services,” says Joosub.