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Efforts to make online news more accessible to expats, disabled
December 17, 2018 | 10:49 AM
by Times News Service
Dr. Abdulmunim Al Hasani, Minister of Information at the Government Communication Centre’s ninth conference titled “Inclusiveness of government media content”. -ONA
 
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Muscat: Oman’s government is working on ways to make online news more accessible to non-Arabic people and people with special needs.

“Every institution, whether the ministry, public authority, government or private business, is responsible for providing easier digital access to people with special needs,” Dr. Abdulmunim Al Hasani, Minister of Information, said.

Speaking at the Government Communication Centre’s ninth conference titled “Inclusiveness of government media content”, officials discussed ways in which every website in the Sultanate could be more user-friendly towards people with special needs.

“This change requires us all to stand together,” added Al Hasani. “It is very important for every establishment with a website to take into account the digital accessibility of persons with disabilities. It is a necessity and the duty of these websites to have such services in order to benefit everyone.”



“Another important element is creating the right content for people with special needs; we must admit that when it comes to this, we at this level fall short,” added the minister.

With regarding to increasing online content for non-Arabic speakers, Al Hasani said, “So far in Oman, expats account for nearly 50 per cent of the population, therefore we must consider the global language; this is a



priority now.”

According to the National Centre for Statistics and Information, there are 34,900 people who have registered disability cards. Furthermore, 14 per cent of all people with disabilities use technology and social media, thus, improving digital access for them is very important.

“There has been significant global progress in methods to present information to people with special needs. As such, we can improve, but we cannot work alone, we must include associations concerned that are at the forefront of working with people with special needs,” he said.

People’s experience

During the meeting, people with special needs were able to speak to government officials about their experiences and challenges while accessing their websites and social media accounts.

Ali Al Amri, a visually impaired man, said, “Technology has helped us with education, with our work life; I feel more inclusive in society. We want to rely on ourselves, we are not asking for separate news for the disabled, we are asking for integration within the news and online content.”

The main worry among special needs users is that some urgent messages or major decrees are shared first in the form of images, and only later described.

“The technology on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter is there for us to be kept up to date with all the news and decisions, but if an agency posts a picture, we have to wait for a written description,” added Al Amri. “Raising awareness is the key to improving the standard, people must know that increasing accessibility is not an extra privilege, but a necessity.”

Al Amri was joined by other individuals with hearing, speech, and visual disabilities.

Future plans

“We at the Ministry of Information will begin to guide all cinemas to provide audio descriptive services at the theaters,” Al Hasani said, adding that this will give people with hearing disabilities the chance to go to cinemas and enjoy movies, like everyone else.

“There are solutions which could come about promptly, such as providing workshops on how to build and create content for people with special needs. There are many ideas and suggestions on ways we could improve, but what needs to happen now, is that we need to implement and create practical foundations to achieve these ambitions,” added Al Hasani.

The centre also introduced methods on ways to make their government agencies’ posts more inclusive and accessible to disabled people. This was in addition to practices they should avoid.

Earlier this month, Oman was ranked among the top 10 performers globally, and first regionally in the Digital Accessibility Rights Evaluation (DARE) index conducted by G3ict, the Global Initiative for Inclusive ICTs, which aims at benchmarking digital accessibility for persons with disabilities.

Oman’s achievement in digital accessibility is an outcome of the existing legislation, laws, and policies issued over the last 10 years, as well as the exerted efforts by government and private organisations and non/governmental organisations under the leadership of the Information Technology Authority (ITA).

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