E-Accessibility in Oman

The Government of Oman has previously adopted an e-accessibility policy that is intended to address the challenges faced by disabled Web users in Oman, but the objectives of this policy have yet to be fully realised.

Even though technology enables disabled persons to access knowledge and participate in society in numerous ways, the choices that Web designers and developers make when creating websites continue to limit the ability of disabled persons to take full advantage of assistive tools that enable them to access Web content.

For example, blind persons can use screen readers and refreshable braille displays to navigate websites and read digital content published on the Internet. However, these tools can only be used on text that is machine-readable, i.e. text that is written in easy to process formats such as simple HTML and text files. When developers choose to publish their content as images or PDF files with complex formatting, these assistive tools cannot read the content, and therefore they are unable to convey to blind users the information that is written in these files.

The Omani government has been aware of the challenges that disabled persons face and has declared its commitment to respect, protect, and fulfil the rights of disabled persons through its membership to international human rights treaties that protect the rights of the disabled and by passing an Omani law on the rights of the disabled.

In regard to Web technology in particular, the Information Technology Authority has also adopted a specific policy on e-accessibility that requires government agencies and government owned companies to ensure that the content published on their websites and the e-services they provide are accessible to persons with disability. Furthermore, this policy also requires government agencies and government-owned company to ensure that internal information relating to the operation of these agencies is accessible to disabled employees.

However, beyond the inclusion of automatic screen readers on some government websites, there does not appear to be any evidence of the government effort in making its digital content accessible to disabled persons. For example, the actual law protecting the rights of the disabled in Oman, the Law on the Care and the Rehabilitation of Disabled Persons, is not available in an accessible format on the website of the Ministry of Social Development or the website of the Ministry of Legal Affairs. In fact, even the e-accessibility policy itself is not available in an accessible format on the website of the Information Technology Authority or the website of the Ministry of Social Development.

While having an e-accessibility policy is a good first step towards providing e-access for the disabled, the Government of Oman must have a practical implementation strategy to make the objective of this policy a reality.

This strategy can include adding e-accessibility responsibility to existing IT teams in the government, mandating the use of certain file formats and prohibiting the use of others, conducting surveys of the accessibility of government websites and their compliance with international accessibility principles, and involving actual disabled persons in the process of designing and evaluating government websites.

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