The Role of NGOs in promoting digital accessibility in Ukraine

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Institute of Innovative Governance


In the past decades, Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) have become instrumental in addressing and devising solutions for societal challenges, particularly for vulnerable people. Their influence spans a large range of areas and activities, from delivering services to providing humanitarian aid, there are countless examples on how NGOs can promote a positive change in a country and support people in need.

Notably, some scholars argue that NGOs play a crucial role in strengthening civil society by organising advocacy initiatives and creating the conditions for which a society can effectively include vulnerable people. This approach is pivotal in deviating from patterns that are characterized by mere paternalism and ineffective actions. In other words, NGOs not only raise awareness about pressing social issues but also act as catalysts by effectively urging governments and other stakeholders to take concrete and proactive steps such as improving transparency and accountability or ensure an efficient and inclusive use of resources for people in need.

For instance, when it comes to the inclusion of people with disabilities, NGOs can assume an effective role in addressing issues related to attitudes and cultivating an enabling environment for behavioural change across various stakeholders, including government, economy, and education. Furthermore, when NGOs operate with people with disability at the grassroots level, they can achieve even larger results in terms of inclusion and positive behavioural transformation. In contrast to government services, which often prioritize the needs of the majority while overlooking vulnerable groups, NGOs can significantly enhance the actual living conditions of people with disabilities, effectively addressing their specific needs and improving their overall local living environment.

This feature of NGOs working with people with disability is particularly important in the current context of Ukraine. The Russian aggression to Ukraine has caused unprecedented issues for Ukraine and its citizens. The war had a significant humanitarian impact, including massive displacement of civilians, loss of life, and significant damage to infrastructure across the entire country. Clearly, the conflict has severely affected institutions dedicated to the care of disabled persons in Ukraine, leading to a significant deterioration in living conditions and the displacement of thousands.

Furthermore, the invasion has resulted in an unprecedented surge in war crimes, warfare-related activities, and widespread destruction, which have contributed to a substantial increase in the population of Ukrainian people with disabilities. These are the individuals whom Ukraine will need to provide medical care for, offer ongoing support, and actively work to fully reintegrate into society.

This situation is further complicated by the fact that Ukraine, while fighting against Russian aggression, is simultaneously undergoing a process of reforms aimed at strengthening its democratic institutions and achieving full integration into the European Union in the coming years. This inevitably has an impact on its citizens with disabilities as well.

In this unique scenario marked by sharp challenges related to people with disabilities, simultaneous conflict of aggression, and the pursuit of European integration, Ukrainian NGOs can indeed serve as proactive agents of positive change for people with disability and reinforcing the role of civil society as a whole. Specifically, Ukrainian NGOs working with and on behalf of individuals with disabilities can undertake three distinct actions:

  1. Promote digital accessibility

    Ukraine is rapidly evolving into a fully digital society. While this trend was already underway before the war of aggression, the exceptional circumstances resulting from the war, such as forced displacement and physical infrastructure destruction, have undoubtedly accelerated the country's digitalization process. This is especially notable in the case of public services that lend themselves to digital transformation. Therefore, it is essential for NGOs to amplify their efforts and ensure that digital service platforms, whether public or private, are accessible to individuals with disabilities. Indeed, they can assume a pivotal role in advocate for digital accessibility and ensure that both private and public entities to incorporate people with disabilities into their digital transformation strategies, particularly by ensuring effective access to services that are transitioning into digital formats.
  2. Government watchdog

    Ensuring compliance with international standards for digital accessibility is key for Ukraine's path towards European integration. The nation faces a monumental transformation, especially concerning how citizens access and obtain public services. These reforms poses a formidable challenge for both the present and future Ukrainian governments, particularly given the complex context in which this integration process will be carried on. Yet, local NGOs should ensure that European standards and best practices are fully transposed into current and future legislation, in order to both facilitate and accelerate the European integration process. For example, the reforms for the EU acquis chapter 19 (Social Policy & Employment) can be further facilitated by including core elements of digital accessibility. Therefore, it is imperative to ensure that the government and public sector keep prioritize digital accessibility in its reform path.
  3. Be an example

    Digital accessibility should not be viewed as a mere objective; rather, it constitutes an ongoing process demanding continuous adaptation, the exchange of best practices, and the provision of clear examples to support advocacy initiatives. Hence, Ukrainian NGOs should serve as exemplars, demonstrating that digital accessibility can be a core element of Ukrainian civil society. They can achieve this goal by adapting their websites to different disability, conducting internal training sessions to ensure that they know how to use proper IT tools, and engaging in communication efforts that emphasize the importance of including people with disabilities in the digital sphere. In other words, when it comes to digital accessibility, Ukrainian NGOs can effectively became inspiration in action for the whole society.

Let's make Ukraine inclusive and accessible for everyone!

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