PWDs bear the brunt of internet shutdowns

Monday January 18 2021

BY: Mohammed Kimbugwe, Disability Rights Advocate

When I woke up on the morning of 14th December 2020 and discovered that my hearing condition had moved from "hard-of-hearing" to "severe hearing loss", not even a decade of experience as a Disability Inclusion expert could stop me from getting scared! Fortunately, the internet quickly availed me with a miracle! I discovered a live transcription mobile application, which was capable of converting physical conversations from speech to text in real time.

On the evening of Wednesday January 13th 2021, I confidently turned on the app hoping to have yet another productive conversation with a colleague, yet this time, the application wasn't transcribing! After a lot of frustration, checking my data balance and wondering what had happened to my internet, a friend sent me a text message that made the pain clear. THERE'S A TOTAL INTERNET SHUTDOWN! When you are a person living with a disability who thrives on the internet, that's the most painful news you can receive.

The internet turns our lives around in more ways than can be explained. So many of us thrive on it for communication, accessibility and participation in all spheres of human endeavor. It has made school, work, business and financial transactions much easier.

For example, persons living with physical, visual or hearing impairments find internet banking much more convenient than physically going to a financial institution without Braille or a sign language interpreter.

I personally missed all my virtual Master of Arts classes over the entire period of the shutdown, which are much more accessible for me than attending a physical lecture. The internet gives us convenience and independence! An internet shutdown takes all of that away!


Technology, Digitalization and ICTs for empowerment and inclusion of persons with disabilities are enshrined in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities(CRPD) and such internet shutdowns don't make the realization of this dream any easier. Uganda's approximately 12.4% persons living with disabilities are already struggling with the prohibitively high prices of digital devices and assistive technology, and internet shutdowns are an insult to that already painful injury.

With internet shutdowns, PWDs are locked out of the digital space as much as they are locked out of the built environment. Just when we thought the internet was opening up opportunities that we've for so long been denied in the built environment, internet shutdowns remind us that we are far from being fully included!

The author is a person living with severe hearing loss and is an International Development Professional with expertise in Digitalisation, Human Rights and Disability Inclusion.