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Improving the computer needs of the impaired
While the benefits of information technology for people with disabilities are obvious, access to computers is still cost-prohibitive.
"Measures need to be taken to make computers and special adaptive devices for the disabled more affordable. Currently, the costs of such equipment are not only frequently double or triple the regular price of computers for non-disabled people, they seem to be rising," notes Sumitha.
She suggests the invention of local software and hardware devices as a means to bring pricing down.
Liew also suggests special discounted computer class fees for the disabled. "These include special fees also for parents of people with disabilities who have the added burden of looking after their disabled children. Computer classes should also be held on ground floor premises so that we can get our wheelchairs in instead of upstairs as is commonly done."
Azman's own view is that cybercafes and similar outlets should give a reduced rate for disabled patrons as a gesture of goodwill and support.
Sumitha agrees and says Internet providers and telephone companies could introduce special discounted access rates for the disabled. "This would be a good place to start. Jaring (a local ISP), for instance, has a reduced rate for students but not for disabled and elderly people.
"The disabled are already very much marginalized in many societies and in many ways. To be excluded from the Internet phenomenon which is continuing to sweep the world will only push us to further isolation," she adds.
"The Internet is also a leveler of playing fields. It is imperative that those who can and are able to make a difference in the world should also benefit from the technology--not only at a participatory level but to excel in it and leverage on everything it offers," she continues.
Sumitha is helping to coordinate the first-ever meeting of its kind between the National Information Technology Council (NITC) and the disabled community this November.
"The inclusion of disabled people is most important because the very nature of information and communications technology allows people with disabilities to play a very meaningful role in the new era," says A. Jayanath, who is program director for the NITC Strategic Agenda of Mimos Berhad.
Going by the support and responsiveness accorded to the disabled by the NITC lately, including an invitation to an exclusive Q&A session with Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad in September, the disabled have good reason to be optimistic about being included in the nation's IT vision very soon.
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