Social media tax limiting internet inclusion for PWDs

Government’s introduction of the Over the top (OTT) tax commonly known as social media tax has further alienated people with disabilities (PWDs) which is worsening their poverty situation, the executive director of Community Based Rehabilitation (CBR) Africa Network Dr Abdul Busulwa has said.

Speaking at the Uganda Internet Governance Forum 2018 at Protea Kampala Hotel on Wednesday, Dr Busuulwa, who himself has a sight impairment said that there is limited access to internet by people with disabilities since a number of them are financially constrained due to several factors such as the cost associated with gadgets like smart phones or computers which makes it harder to access and use internet.

“Anything that asks more money from people with disabilities is likely not to be affordable because disability is synonymous with poverty. But secondly, we have a group that benefits from WhatsApp like the deaf, they are able to read information that they would not be able to hear. And Television sometimes does not have sign language,” said Busulwa.

Panelists at the just recently concluded Uganda internet governance forum.

According to Busulwa, cheap access to internet would enable people living with disabilities to have cheaper access to materials that they would otherwise not afford easily, for instance newspapers.

“People with disabilities also access news through social media platforms like Facebook, twitter, WhatsApp and others. These are relevant sources of information for such a group of people especially in an event where main stream media does not cater for the different needs of people with disabilities,” Busulwa said.

Dr. Busulwa further explains how people with disabilities use the internet to make online transactions.

“Although it is not common in Uganda, we had started making online transactions. And this is helpful because some people with disabilities cannot easily move to places to purchase certain items” added Busulwa.

Very few PWDs use the internet because they have limited access, worse still, Busulwa said, the problem is worsened by the recent introduction of Over the Top tax (OTT) which has made it difficult for PWDs to create online networks.

“With social media we create online networks in which we share information with each other especially because off line networks are very difficult to develop with people who have no disabilities; we also access information from different online platform like online newspapers which we would otherwise not be able to afford,” Busulwa said.

He expressed the need for government to have special consideration of people with disabilities to deal with their demands in the digital age, but this, he emphasized, calls employment of experts knowledgeable with the needs of PWDs to help in the formulation and implementation of Information and Technology policy.

This was after the Information Technology Capacity Building and Professional Development officer at the National Information Technology Authority Uganda (NITA-U) Christine Nalubowa acknowledged that there is exclusion of PWDs but added that as an authority, NITA-U cannot have special treatment to foster inclusiveness for PWDs unless there is a clear policy to that effect.