ARUA –April 29, 2022 – “Mr. Speaker sir, I would like to appeal for the integration of sign language into the national curriculum of Uganda so that professionals that come from our training institutions and universities can graduate with full knowledge of sign language.”
The submission above could very easily have been part of the proceedings in Uganda’s national Parliament or local government councils. However, it transpired in the 12th Communications Consumer Parliament (CCP), a unique initiative of the Uganda Communications Commission that subjects the regulator and operators to the people’s scrutiny in line with UCC’s consumer protection mandate.
The Communications Consumer Parliament was first held in 2014 but the 12th edition (CCP-12), which took place in Arua City on April 29, 2022, was the first to be held physically since the onset of COVID-19. Chaired by Mr. Walter Amandu, the half-day session was attended by representatives from the Ministry of ICT & National Guidance; telecom service providers (Airtel, MTN, UTL, Lyca Mobile); broadcasting operators (GOtv, Dstv, Azam); Government agencies (UBC TV, Government Citizen Interaction Centre – GCIC), consumer groups, and journalists, among others.
CCP-12 was a culmination of week-long activities in the West Nile region, including consumer awareness clinic at Kubala market in Terego district and inn the Bidi Bidi settlement in Yumbe district , digital skilling for SMEs at Arua Technical Centre, and Girls in ICT engagements in Bidi Bidi Refugee Settlement, Yumbe district.
The main objective of the “parliament” is to facilitate debate around communications sector consumer related issues. It is also a source of valuable feedback to the operators and the regulator from consumers of communications services. Thus, the event provides a rare opportunity for consumers of communications services to interact with Government officials, regulators, and service providers; exchange ideas, ask questions and demand accountability.
For Mr. Paulino Agutuku, a representative of Persons with Special Needs (PSNs), this was a good opportunity to pour his heart out in the interest of his constituency, and he grabbed it with both hands. Incorporating sign language into the national curriculum, he said, would make it easier to “communicate with the community of deaf people in this country and to use ICT gadgets and equipment to enhance inclusion of people living with hearing impairment.”
Mr. Agutuku lamented the lack of access to inclusive ICT products and assistive technologies that accommodate unique disabilities such as visual and hearing impairment, explaining that visually impaired people are unable to use most of the computers currently on the market in Uganda. “We want to appeal to this august house that Government, through UCC, could make appropriate interventions and allocate resources in order to secure some of that software and products that can be used by our people with special disabilities,” he said.
Responding to the PSN representative’s concerns, the Ag. Executive Director Eng. Irene Kaggwa Sewankambo revealed that UCC was engaged in a partnership with the National Union of Women with Disabilities of Uganda (NUWODU) though which girls and women with disabilities are supported with digital skills and ICT equipment.
It was also revealed that through the Uganda Communications Universal Services Access Fund (UCUSAF), UCC had equipped the Mbale School for the Deaf with specialised ICT equipment as part of the mission to leave no one behind. Mr. Agutuku was further told that UCC had partnered with Kyambogo University to undertake sign language training, while guidelines have been developed to enable television access for PSNs. Besides Persons with Special Needs, the parliament also heard petitions from the refugee community, Girls in ICT, market vendors, and SMEs.
Earlier, in her opening remarks, the Ag. Executive Director Eng. Irene Kaggwa Sewankambo had explained the rationale for the parliament set up, saying that UCC seeks to get down to the grassroots to hear from ordinary people first-hand about their experiences. “Through this forum, we wish to hear the issues that you are grappling with; the issues that are impeding you from enjoying the ICT services and reaping the full benefits,” she said.
“We are saying digital inclusiveness, leaving no one behind – whether persons have special needs, girls, youth, the aged, those who are in the most remote areas, refugees; we want to ensure that everybody is participating in this digital inclusive process.” However, Eng. Sewankambo was quick to add that in line with the theme, “Digital Safety for All”, ICTs must be used responsibly and safely.
“We know that technology is a double-edged sword – it is beneficial to all of us, but it can be used against us,” she said. “There are so many dangers that can come with the use of technology.” This engagement, she added, aims to ensure that consumers are empowered to protect themselves, and others as well, from scammers who are constantly looking out for avenues to make their ICT experience miserable.
Representing telecom operators, Airtel Uganda Managing Director Manoj Murali, and MTN Uganda General Manager Customer Experience Dorcas Muhwezi, among others, participated in the proceedings and responded to queries that came their way during the plenary debate. CCP-12 was closed by the Resident City Commissioner (RCC) of Arua, Mr. Charles Ochili, who applauded UCC for organising a successful event and for choosing Arua City