GRM 2010 GRM 2011

Abstract Details

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Title of Paper:
Multi-Stakeholder Framework for Facilitating Access to Mobile-Based Services for Visually Impaired Persons in GCC countries
Paper Proposal Text :
This paper discusses a multi-stakeholder framework for enabling visually impaired persons gain access to relevant and useful mobile-based applications for better living. According to the World Disability Report, published by the World Health Organization and the World Bank, in 2011, about 90% of the world’s visually impaired live in developing countries and the Eastern Mediterranean region is home to the second largest number of people in the world with visual impairment, according to WHO estimates. Despite possessing sound intellect and in most circumstances sharpened senses, visually impaired persons are unable to realize their potential. This is mainly due to unavailability of relevant technologies in resource poor settings and general lack of awareness on their capability if provided with access to knowledge, information and mobility.

The paper will review and synthesize the relevant literature on existing service delivery models in GCC countries for visually impaired persons and propose framework and policies for fostering the required collaboration between research institutes, telecom operators, civil society groups and the government in making mobile-based applications and services available for visually impaired persons. The main applications being looked into would be tracking applications for gaining easy directions. Mobility is a major constraint for visually impaired persons and existing GPS based applications are in English and often not locally customized for detailed and appropriate directions useful for visually impaired persons. Internet users as a share of population is in single digit levels in most GCC countries. Needless to say the share of visually impaired internet users is very limited despite the internet’s huge potential for improving their lives. In the words of Her Royal Highness Princess Sabeeka bint Ibrahim Al Khalifa in the inauguration ceremony of the First GCC Friendship Forum for the Blind “access to forums play a key role in assessing the needs of the blind and integrating them in the society”. Such access can be ensured through a ‘corporate social responsibility’ based approach from mobile operators under a framework driven by the government. Access to Helpline – this will mean speed dialing to police station and or legal professionals who agree to volunteer support for disabled persons. This is particularly relevant due to general lack of awareness on citizen’s rights, rights of disabled persons and large scale discrimination in education and employment sector. Another technology of importance would be registration to electronic banking services. Among visually impaired persons the penetration is much lower as a significant majority of visually impaired persons are poor and unable to empower themselves due to lack of resources. Mobile based financial services may begin with deposits, withdrawal and electronic fund transfer. Going forward these may be expanded to credit card and loan facilities. For knowledge and capacity building access to distance learning facilities and access to newspaper website can make valuable contributions.

Having identified a set of relevant applications and application-based services for visually impaired persons, the paper will propose a framework involving software developers, mobile network operators and governing bodies for facilitating the large-scale availability at affordable prices. The paper will make policy recommendations to improve affordability, access and adoption for the benefit of visually impaired individuals in the GCC and other developing countries.