Meeting SummaryThe Department of Communications (DOC) gave its responses to issues raised around communications, during the public hearings on the implementation of the United Nation Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. The Department claimed that had adopted the approach of mainstreaming disability. Its two important programmes to address disability issues were the ICT Accessibility Programme and the Access to Broadcasting Programme, both of which would facilitate access to television and radio by persons with disabilities. It was working with the SABC in this regard. It identified Articles 9 (accessibility) and 21 (freedom of expression and access to information) as particularly important to its work. It noted that key aspects of its strategy included the establishment of a national ICT Accessibility Forum, with representation from the ICT industry role players, State Owned Entities and the disability sector. The Forum should advise DOC on the implementation of the strategy. Some of its interventions were outlined.
Several Members of the Committee expressed disappointment at the substantial time lag in the DOC’s work on disability, commenting that much more work should have been done to address budgetary constraints when they were first identified, and that more could have been done to address resource management over the past seven years, and that reports were still needed on whether strategies formulated in 2009 had since been approved. Members asked for explanations about the 2% employment target, the number of disabled persons employed by the Department, and in what positions, and its achievement of goals. It was asked to submit a copy of its Strategic Plan to the Committee. They questioned the presence of the Department in rural areas and the work that was being done there. Further details were provided of a Situational Analysis that fed into the development of the Disability ICT Strategy. They urged that illiteracy in the country must be addressed, by whatever means possible, but the DOC reminded Members that subtitling would assist only in certain sectors. The conclusions reached at the Northern Cape Seminar were explained, and Members asked how monitoring would take place. They urged that a policy review must take place, and clarity was needed on approval of the ICT Strategy. A number of questions remained unanswered and the DOC was asked to submit written answers within the next two weeks.
Progress on implementation of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities: Department of Communications briefing
The Acting Chief Director: Gender Disability Youth, and Children, Department of Communications, said that the Department of Communications (DOC or the Department) had adopted the approach of mainstreaming disability. It had also adopted two important programmes, the ICT Accessibility Programme and the Access to Broadcasting Programme, both of which would facilitate access to television and radio by persons with disabilities. It was working with the SABC.
The ratification of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (the Convention), and the Department’s response to this, was outlined. Certain Articles were particularly relevant to the Department. These were Article 9: Accessibility, and Article 21: Freedom of Expression and Opinion, and Access to Information.
Some key aspects of the DOC strategy included the establishment of a National ICT Accessibility Forum comprising of ICT industry role players, State Owned Entity representatives and representatives of the disability sector. The role of this Forum would be to advise the Department on the implementation of the strategy. The more detailed interventions towards implementation of the Convention and the implications for the Department were outlined (see attached document).
The Chairperson said that there were always budgetary constraints around resources for disabled persons, and this showed that vulnerable groups were not taken seriously in society. Disabled persons should be viewed as full persons and the necessary budgets allocated. It was important that awareness was raised on this issue.
The Acting Chief Director replied, in regard to budgeting, that economies of scale influenced prices, and since the demand for assistive devices was not the same as for the able-bodied general population, the devices were more expensive. The DOC was trying to lobby so that, within the issue of a universal design, accessibility was given to all persons, and if all devices provided had functionality for the disabled as well, the prices could be brought down.
The Chairperson asked for an explanation about the 2% target for employment of disabled persons, and asked how far DOC was on this target.
Ms I Ditshetelo (UCDP) also asked about the achievement of the 2% target employment target, as well as how many employees (by number) in the DOC were disabled.
Ms H Lamoela (DP) asked what percentage of disabled persons was employed by the Department.
The Acting Chief Director replied that out of the 341 people employed in the Department, six were disabled, including the post of Chief Director of Gender, Disability, Youth and Children. This brought the Department very close to the 2% target.
The Chairperson asked where disabled persons in the Department were working.
Ms Tryphosa Ntswelengwe, Sign Language Interpreter: GDYC: Department of Communications, replied that there were three staff within the GDYC unit, with the Chief Director heading up that unit. Other staff who were disabled were located elsewhere in the Department.
Ms Lamoela said that the main concern was the challenge of the budget. Disabled persons should not be considered differently to able bodied persons. She asked why, if this Department already knew about the budgetary constraints in 2005, something was not done to sort out the problem immediately, so that it did not recur in 2012.
Mr Farhad Osman, Chief Director: Strategic Planning and Policy: Department of Communications, said that the Department had considered a prioritised budget for the GDYC Chief Directorate, which was part of a sub programme that was supposed to explore a percentage of the entire Department allocation. The budgetary constraints were acknowledged, and the Department had discussed various mechanisms to address this constraint.
Ms Lamoela asked if the Department had reached any of its goals. She asked further if the Portfolio Committee could have a copy of the strategic plans that Department had in place.
The Acting Chief Director replied that a copy of the Strategic Plans would be forwarded to the Committee.
Ms Ditshetelo asked the Department how it worked in rural areas, and how Sign Language was promoted in rural areas.
Mr Osman said that the Universal Service and Access Agency of South Africa (USAASA) and the strategy itself had a rural bias. The Department was now moving to full implementation and had prioritised the rural areas. It mostly relied upon State Owned Entities to assist it here.
Ms Ntswelengwe said that the Department focussed on disability across all aspects of its programmes, to ensure access for all groups in all areas. To make sure that all groups had access to all documents, it had incorporated a number of languages into sign language, and was also ensuring access for blind people. In the meeting with the SABC the Department had captured a number of areas to ensure all groups were made aware, and provision of subtitles were also part of the discussion with the Minister.
Ms P Petersen-Maduna (ANC) asked how the Pan South African Language Board (PanSALB) promoted sign language, and if it implemented any awareness raising initiatives. If not, then she wanted to know the reasons.
The Acting Chief Director replied that the Department was unable to respond as it did not have oversight over PanSALB.
Ms F Muthambi (ANC) noted that the Situational Analysis had been completed, and asked what the outcomes of that study were, and if the DOC could provide an update on how it had fared in implementing it.
Mr Osman replied that the Situational Analysis had been done through an environmental scan that fed into the development of the Disability ICT Strategy. That Strategy had gone through a thorough consultative process and extensive research. The Situational Analysis was done to inform the actual Disability Strategy. The Department was currently undergoing a full ICT policy review process and, in so doing, had considered specific issues of disability.
Ms Lamoela asked what had been achieved since 2005 to 2012.
Ms Muthambi said that there were timelines set out, since 2005. She asked how far the Department had gone in implementing the outcomes of the summit.
The Acting Chief Director said that the reason for giving the history was to display the Department’s commitment to processes that would address the issues of disabled persons in the ICT sector. It was not that the DOC did not have anything new to report, but it wanted to paint a picture of its attitude, and the role it tried to play nationally and internationally to ensure the barriers were being addressed.
Ms Ntswelengwe said that all the top management, including the State Owned Entities (SOE) of the DOC, had received copies of the UN Convention. Workshops were held with SOEs to ensure that they understood the expectations of the Convention. In relation to the submission of the country report to the UN, she added that the ICT sector input was already assured, and the Chief Director was unable to be at this meeting because that person was part of the delegation submitting the report to the UN.
Ms Muthambi asked, in relation to digital migration, if the area of subtitles was covered. It was vital that illiteracy in the communities was addressed. She also asked how accessible the centres were.
The Acting Chief Director responded that sub-titling responded to a particular form of disability, namely the hearing-impaired, but DOC recognised the assistance that could be granted by technology. The DOC would raise the issues around access to information and the size of fonts with the SABC, so that when that type of technology was being implemented proper consideration would be given to the needs of disabled persons, as far as readability and subtitles were concerned.
Ms Muthambi asked for figures for the different centres developed by USAASA.
The Acting Chief Director said that this would be provided to the Committee. In addition, the DOC could facilitate visits to sites by the Members, to help verify the feasibility of those centres
Ms Muthambi raised the issue of the time frames for interventions undertaken by the Department, noting that there seemed to have been little progress over the period from 2007 to 2008. She asked for a report about the interventions.
Mr Osman acknowledged the long time frames for responses, and said that there whilst there had been approval given by the Executive Authority at that time, there was then a need for further refinement. This was in progress, and the relevant aspects of the strategy were being implemented, in parallel. The strategy was due to be launched in November 2012.
Ms Lamoela asked if any follow up had been done regarding the seminar in the Northern Cape. She asked who monitored this process and what the outcomes had been.
The Acting Chief Director said that most of the engagements had found expression in the strategy. As part of the follow-up mechanism, it was hoped that monitoring would take place as an integral part of the implementation strategy. Whatever was put into the strategy was formulated in response to all the engagements held with the different sectors.
Ms G Tseke (ANC) asked what the findings were at the Seminar, and if there were any plans to deal with challenges raised there.
Ms Tseke asked for clarity about the approval of the ICT Strategy, and expressed the need for an ICT policy review.
The Acting Director replied that this was a good opportunity for the Department, because the Strategy clearly set out the issues that the DOC would be prioritising. The policies being reviewed were inclusive of issues prioritised in the Strategy.
Ms Lamoela asked for clarity on the position of the Acting Chief Director.
Ms Ntswelenge said that the Chief Director was attending a conference in New Your today, and the Acting Chief Director was appointed on a temporary basis to assume responsibilities during the Chief Director’s absence.
The following additional questions were raised, but not answered:
Ms Lamoela asked how the Department had fared in the implementation of Articles of the Convention.
Ms Lamoela asked what had been done not only to assist disabled persons to read print and text on screens, but to read in general.
Ms Ditshetelo asked how the Department ensured access to programmes and services that it rendered to disabled persons.
Ms Ditshetelo asked for a breakdown of the information that was accessible to disabled persons.
Ms Petersen-Maduna was insistent that the DOC did not yet seem to be taking disability seriously. She also asked how many women attended the seminar that the Department hosted in 2008.
Ms Petersen-Maduna noted that the Strategy meeting in 2009, with top management, had been stated as still awaiting approval by the Executive, and asked if this had now been done.
Ms Muthambi also referred to the Disability and ICT Strategy approved by top management of the Department in March 2009, and asked DOC to highlight the successes in implementing the strategy, and work through all areas of the strategy to discuss how far they had come.
Ms Muthambi asked how many disabled persons were involved with the National Electronic Media Institute of South Africa (NEMISA), and how many had benefited from programmes.
Ms Muthambi asked what had been done about the two critical programmes, the ICT Accessibility Programme and the Access to Broadcasting Programme. A written report was requested.
Ms Lamoela asked the Department to identify the percentage spent on programmes for disabled persons.
Ms Lamoela asked where the institutions were that would be providing training in broadcasting for persons with disabilities. She also wanted to know if there were training institutions established in rural areas.
Ms Lamoela asked why proper reporting requirements had only been put in place now, in order to support reporting to the UN on the Convention, and why this had not been done prior to the Convention being ratified.
Mr Osman said that written feedback would be provided regarding data and statistics that the Department was unable to provide today.
The Chairperson said that the Portfolio Committee awaited the responses, in writing, to the questions that the DOC had been unable to answer during the meeting, and that these responses should be submitted within two weeks.
The meeting was adjourned.
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