Friday, March 30, 2018

Internet should be affordable and accessible for everyone if persons with disabilities have to become more independent in the society

In the face of rapid globalization, internet has certainly become an integral part of everyday life today. It has reduced the world into one small global village where people can interact with each other just at the click of a mouse. With appropriate internet tools in place, even persons with disabilities have been able to come out of their closets to meaningfully participate in the public life. The internet technologies have enabled persons with disabilities to become more independent by breaking barriers that hindered their participation in the mainstream society. Today, persons with hearing impairment across the globe can comfortably send and receive real-time text messages on social media and communicate with their friends/families through video conferencing and video-chats. Likewise, persons with visual impairment are able to effectively communicate online using different types of access technology such as the screen-readers and other assistive technologies. It is true that internet has now really become indispensable for everyone in the world including the persons with disabilities. This is the main reason why the disability movements around the world are fighting for affordable and accessible high-speed internet services for all so that persons with disabilities can easily interact with their peers and loved ones, and lead an independent life.

However, the sad reality is that the internet service in Bhutan is still very expensive for many common people. As disability is usually associated with poverty and limited educational opportunities, it is important that the services which persons with disabilities are entitled to are made affordable and accessible. This should not be treated as a charity. Rather, the service providers should take it as part of their corporate responsibility. Considering how much internet really transforms the lives of persons with disabilities, it would be worth for our internet service providers like Bhutan Telecom and Tashi Cell to make their services affordable and accessible for all in Bhutan.

Nobody can deny the fact that internet has made a huge difference in the lives of persons with disabilities in Bhutan especially over the past decade. The deaf children of Wangsel Institute in Paro today are regularly using the internet to communicate with their friends and families via instant messaging services and video calls but as we all know, the Video Relay Service (VRS) requires high-speed internet connection which is naturally too expensive for them to afford. Since they cannot hear audio messages, they cannot have telephonic conversations. The video conferencing or text messaging is the only mode of communication for them to interact effectively with their friends and families. But if the internet continues to remain expensive, they would be deprived of the opportunity to meet their friends and loved ones regularly. In many countries, the internet service has been made universally affordable through various initiatives as part of their social responsibility to create an inclusive society where persons with disabilities can enjoy equal rights to participate in all aspects of social, economic, political and public life without any barrier like their non-disabled counterparts. In Bhutan too, it is high time now that our service providers start exploring how they can make their services affordable and accessible for all in the country as part of their corporate obligation to the society. If we have cheap and accessible high-speed internet connection, it would be a real boon to the community of persons with disabilities in the country since it would help them become fully independent in the society. Although internet can be a luxury for some people, it is a necessity for persons with disabilities.

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