Lit’EDTech Fiesta | 13 | Digital Inclusivity with Maria Zia and M. Shabbir

In episode 13 of Lit’EDTech Fiesta, Daastan invites disability experts, Maria Zia and M. Shabbir Awan to talk about Digital Inclusivity and Accessibility.

Meet the panelists

Our panelists are individuals who themselves deal with visual impairment but are doing their best to change the narrative for people with disabilities in Pakistan. Firstly, we have Maria Zia. Maria is a disability expert, trainer, entrepreneur and radio presenter. In addition, she is also Pakistan’s first visually impaired female adventurer. Moreover, Maria is the founder of Pakistan’s first digitally inclusive library. Secondly, we have with us M. Shabbir Awan. Shabbir is an analyst and a researcher with interest in IR and policy making. Together, Shabbir and Maria offer an eye-opening perspective on digital inclusivity in the session.

Defining Digital Inclusivity

Hafsa Idrees, co-founder Daastan opens the session with the discussion on the term digital inclusivity. She defines it as the ability of a society to provide equal access to online opportunities for all. The term, digital inclusivity itself is broad. However, this session focuses solely on the place of visually impaired individuals in a digitally inclusive world.

Problems in the Education Sector

Maria shares her experience of being a visually impaired student in a mainstream school. She says, “the principal wrote a letter to my father saying the school does not have the tools to teach your daughter”. She emphasises how this ‘othering’ of people with disabilities exclude them from the society altogether. Furthermore, Shabbir contributes to the discussion by talking about the problems he comes across in professional life.

“As an academic, I have to work twice as hard as compared to my colleagues. It is because much of my work includes reading. Since, I can not read I have to rely on the rest of my senses to do my job.”

Maria Zia’s digitally inclusive library

Maria loves literature. However, growing up there were not much opportunities available for people like her to experience literature. Therefore, instead of becoming a victim of her circumstances she started looking for solutions. Hence, she hit upon the idea of a digitally inclusive library. Along with two of her friends, Maria set out to create an app that would allow people with disabilities to enjoy the works of literature. In the present condition, her app provides audiobooks and other facilities in Urdu for people with disabilities. In the future, Maria hopes to expand her digital library to regional Pakistani languages.

Hurdles in daily life activities

Maria brings attention to the problems faced by people with disabilities in their daily life by posing a series of questions.

What does a person do when he wants to read, order food, get a cab or fill official forms?

The answer is that a person without any disability just does it. For him, it is a routine activity. However, for people with disabilities, Maria believes there are a lot of hurdles. In addition, Shabbir says that the developing countries do not have enough tools to cope with or remove the hurdles present for differently-abled people.

Life of a woman as a blind person

It is no doubt that physical disabilities do not discriminate between genders. People with disabilities despite their gender experience difficulty treading through life. However, in a society like ours, Maria says where it is already hard to be a woman, it is even harder to be a woman with a disability.

“ As a visually impaired woman, I face a lot of problems when it comes to mobility and safety. Unfortunately, our society is not gender friendly. Therefore, I have to be extra cautious at all times.”

Role of Society

As someone who carries expertise in policy making, Shabbir breaks down the role of policy makers in ensuring digital inclusivity in two levels. These include the policy level and implementation level. Firstly, laws and policies should be set in place demanding the rights for people with disabilities. Secondly, the concerned laws and policies should be exercised in order to bridge the inclusivity gap. Lastly, Maria adds, on grassroots level every citizen should play their part in changing the narrative for the differently-abled communities.

Message to the audience

In the end, the panelists urge the audience to listen and a be an active participant in bringing the change this society so badly needs, not only in terms of inclusivity but other social aspects too.

We hope you enjoyed this discussion on digital inclusivity and accessibility. Stream the full episode here. For more literary goodness, stay tuned!

Noor Hashmi
Noor Hashmi is a student of literature at Numl University. She is an aspiring poetess. She runs a blog by the name of “Diaries of Huda” sharing her journey through poetry. In her free time, she loves to paint and bake.

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