This month, network members have been attending some events that have gone online due to the pandemic. The Nairobi International Book Fair took place between 24-26 September and among the speakers were Raila Odinga, Former PM, and Ngugi Wa Thiong’o, probably Kenya’s best known and most celebrated author. The programme of events brought together international representatives from the book world to discuss the issues of the day, including the role of digital reading during the pandemic and the challenges of homeschooling. There was also a lot of discussion around the detrimental impact of the pandemic on the book industry, with so many staples of the book year such as launches and festivals now having to go online. But there was also some interesting discussion about how the shift to online events meant greater accessibility for participants, freeing them from all the bureaucracy of international travel (visas etc) and also providing new means for people living with disabilities to join in discussions in ways not previously possible.
The theme of accessibility and inclusivity was also at the forefront of Inable’s conference on Promoting Digital Accessibility in Africa which took place on October 8th and 9th. This conference was opened by Kenya’s First Lady, and one of the keynotes was delivered by Haben Girma, an internationally recognised advocate for disability rights. The conference had representatives from many of the world’s leading tech companies. For example, in the panel on accessibility and social media, we heard what Twitter, Facebook, Uber and Google are doing to increase digital accessibility. It was heartening to hear that their approaches were based on key tenets of inclusive design, particularly working with people living with disabilities to develop new products and services. We were constantly reminded that accessibility is ‘never about us without us’ and so relies on including people living with disabilities at every stage of design and development of tools and products. The session on social media was also particularly instructive about how we can all ensure greater accessibility by taking small steps – for example in the ways we use hashtags or emojis.
Our project aims to connect both with publishers and the book industry and with charities and organisations in Kenya who do such great work in advocating for accessibility and inclusivity for those too often left behind. Attending these online events has given us some great insights into the challenges ahead, and while of course there were downsides to not being able to follow up on some of these fascinating discussions over coffee or lunch with other delegates, good use was made of different platforms to encourage questions and comments from participants, and to encourage networking.