Case Study on E-Accessibility: Qatar

Two Arab countries were ranked among the top 10 e-accessible countries worldwide in 2016. Both countries, Qatar and Oman, have embraced the issue of accessibility for people with special needs, not only to public places and services, but also to information and e-services. They developed their own regulations and legislation in line with international standards, thus becoming leaders in e-accessibility.

While Qatar ranked fifth in 2016, it jumped to first place in 2020 in the G3ict ranking of e-accessibility (DARE Index 2020). As part of the Accessible Qatar initiative,[1] e-accessibility has received great attention from governmental organizations and the private sector. This is reflected in official Government websites that have implemented the minimum required accessibility functions, such as text resize. Moreover, the Government Communications Office has an accessibility page explaining the web accessibility design priorities and the adopted guidelines.

In 2011, the Supreme Council of Information and Communication Technology issued the e-Accessibility Policy of Qatar[2] based on the National Development Strategy 2011-2016,[3] which emphasized the role of ICT as an important enabler for the inclusion of persons with disabilities, mainly children and older persons. It identified a number of barriers to an accessible ICT ecosystem in Qatar, and called upon all stakeholders to reduce these barriers in five years. These technical barriers include inadequate and inaccessible Arabic websites and Arabic content since many assistive technologies do no support Arabic, including screen readers, translators and text-to-voice convertors. Moreover, inaccessible telecom services and physically inaccessible kiosks and automated bank tellers greatly impact e-service suitability and accessibility.

As a result, many programmes and initiatives address the issue of e-accessibility, driving Qatar to its current ranking. For example, Mada,[4] a centre for the inclusion of persons with disability, was founded in 2010. It is considered a worldwide centre of excellence for Arabic e-accessibility. Mada has built three major components to help not only people with disabilities, but their families, schools and the community at large. The Mada Assistive Technology Portal offers people with disabilities a wide range of information about assistive technology, in both Arabic and English. The Mada Innovation Programme is a regional incentive to encourage innovation in finding Arabic accessibility solutions to overcome challenges facing persons with disabilities in the region. The third component is a digital accessibility consulting service and a platform to provide accreditation and compliance testing for different platforms, including websites, mobile phones, kiosks, and public sites, in accordance with international standards.

Sasol, an international integrated chemicals and energy company, developed the Accessible Qatar initiative, in collaboration with local Qatari businesses and international partners, to raise societal awareness on the importance of including persons with disabilities to promote social acceptance. It implemented a smartphone application and website to enhance understanding through sport events, cultural activities, art, and education.