IDRC Pan Asia Networking sponsorship

Information, Communication and Disability

D. Bruce Yeates, Dean,
Faculty of Arts, University of Papua New Guinea

People with disabilities are not a homogenous group of people.  Disability covers a broad range of physical, mental, sensory and emotional or learning difficulties.  Disabled people are infants, children, teenagers, adults, and elderly both male and female.  Each person with a disability will have different information and communication needs.  Disabled people are handicapped in society because they ‘encounter cultural, physical or social barriers which prevent their access to various systems of society that are available to other citizens’ (Eade and Williams 1995:305-306).

This paper outlines regional and national key policy strategies which are aimed at reducing the barriers which handicap disabled people in society.  It is the intent of the paper to alert information and information technology professionals of the need to integrate people with disabilities in the National Information Infrastructure and thereby provide them with an equal opportunity to gather and generate information.

Social Development Strategy

A social development strategy was adopted in the ESCAP Region with the aim of improving the quality of life of all people.  The principal objectives are the eradication of absolute poverty, the realization of distributive justice and the enhancement of popular participation. Disadvantaged and vulnerable social groups including people with disabilities are to be given special attention by governments in the national policies and programmes which they develop.

Asian and Pacific Decade of Disabled Persons

Within the framework of the Social Development Strategy, the years 1993-2002 were declared the Asian and Pacific Decade of Disabled Persons by the Governments of the ESCAP region.

Implementation strategies were formulated in specific policy categories to act as bench marks and guidelines for national action (Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific 1993:7-25). The basic policies and suggested efforts for implementation include:


a)Development of national capacity for:

Collection and analysis of comprehensive and accurate data on the national disability situation;

Documentation on disability - related issues and projects in the country;

Responding accurately and quickly to queries on disability - related issues in the country;

Packaging of information for diverse user groups;

Preparation of information for diverse user groups;

Identification of national strengths and needs.

b) Collaboration between public libraries, information centres and organizations of persons with disabilities to increase the availability of information material in floppy diskette, large print, braille, audio cassette and video cassette formats;

c) Introduction of captions in films and television programmes as well as those in video cassette format;

d) Establishment of means to protect the privacy of individuals with disabilities in the collection of disability - related data.

2. Access and Communication.

a) Development and implementation of guidelines for electronic accessibility to:

Increase the availability of electronic equipment that people with disabilities may use either with or without special peripherals (ie: special aids that provide access to electronic equipment, e.g., large print and Braille displays, spoken input and output mechanisms, and keyboard enhancement and replacement products);

Encourage public and private sector agencies and organizations to consider electronic access for persons with disabilities in their procurement and renting of equipment.

b)development of barrier free design codes to cover new construction as well as

renovation and expansion of public libraries, information centres, public telephone, etc.;

c) Training of personal whose work involves contact with the public, to improve their communication with people with visual impairment and people with cognitive limitations;

d) Support for sign language development

e) Expansion of telecommunications services eg. telecommunications relay services and closed captioning;

f) Support for enhanced availability of information to vision - impaired people eg. braille/audio cassette/computer and voice synthesizer information services;

g) Encouragement of the production of simplified information/pictorial modes) to aid users with cognitive disabilities.

h) Encouragement of citizens’/cooperate initiatives to develop approaches to the introduction of accessibility to all areas of society, including key areas such as information.

3.Prevention of causes of disability

a)Formulation of national policies, programmes and implementation guidelines aimed at information, education and communication.

4.Rehabilitation Services

a)Preparation and dissemination of information on rehabilitation resources.

5. Assistive devices

a) Development of information exchange and sharing among research and development institutions, personnel, consumers, production workshops, and distribution channels.

6. Self-help organizations

a)Provision of policy, programme and resource support, for the establishment and strengthening of self-help organizations of people with disabilities;

b) Conduct, by self-help organizations of people with disabilities of programmes to facilitate access for people with disabilities to information, in appropriate formats, on resources available to the general public as well as specifically for people with disabilities;

c) National forum (representing all disability groups) action to conduct research and disseminate information on the issues that people with disabilities consider significant in their daily lives, as an instrument for policy enhancement.

A Papua New Guinea National Special Education Workshop held in Madang in June 1997 resolved to urge the Government to sign the ‘Proclamation on the Full Participation and Equality of People with Disabilities in the Asian and Pacific Region’, in conjunction with the Asian and Pacific Decade of Disabled Persons. Such action by the Government would provide a further impetus to the integration of disabled people in national development in the country.

Present Situation in Papua New Guinea

It is estimated that 10% of any population has a disability. This estimated would mean that approximately 400,000 people in the country would have some form of disability.

The 1990 Census identified 11,938 persons 10 years old and over as being handicapped or disabled. The handicapped or disabled category was listed as one of the economic activity codes in the 1990 census. English was used in the census questionnaire and was translated into more than 700 languages by the interviewers. The danger of misinterpretation of census questions into ‘tokples’ is therefore very considerable (Suvulo 1995: Personal Communication) and this observation would mean that the figure would be unreliable.

The Special Education Unit of the Department of Education indicated that in 1997 the Special Education Resource Centres were serving only 2,000 children in only 7 provinces.

These figures represent only a small portion of the estimated disabled population in the country and are perhaps indications of only those disabled people whose disability is visible.

The National Policy Environment

At the national level, the National Constitution provides the basis for the integration of disabled people in national development. The Constitutional Provisions that can be used include: National Goals and Directive Principles, Basic Rights, Basic Social Obligations, and Special Laws which can be made for disadvantaged groups.

There are several national social sector policies which have been adopted by Government and provide a policy environment which, at least conceptually, is aimed at enhancing popular participation. The information contained in these documents needs to be communicated not only to people with disabilities but also to the wider public particularly in villages and local-level government areas. These policies include:

1. Department of Home Affairs

Social Development Policy For Social Services

National Womens Policy

National Youth Policy

Non-governmental Organizations Policy

2. Department of Education

Special Education Plan

Policy and Guidelines For Special Education

National Policy for Improving and Co-ordinating Competency Training in Papua New Guinea (Draft)

3. Department of Health

National Health Plan

The Government is also a signator to United Nations treaties and declarations which are further commitments to the integration of disabled people into the various systems that are available to other citizens. These include:

Convention On The Rights Of Children
Convention On The Elimination Of Discrimination Against Women
Social Development Summit Declaration
Universal Declaration Of Human Rights

In addition to these there is legislation such as the Child Welfare Act which provides a legal basis for the protection of children with disabilities. This Act is currently being reviewed and integrated with the Convention On The Rights Of Children.

National Special Education Plan and Policy and Guidelines for Special Education.

The National Special Education Plan and Policy and Guidelines could serve as a model for the National Information Infrastructure. The aim of the Special Education Plan is to integrated disabled children into the national education system. Its scope is to include all children who have a physical, mental, social or sensory impairment so as to require modifications of school curricula, programmes, instructional materials and services to assist them to develop to their maximum capacity. It applies to all classes, schools, educational centres within the educational system whether they be full member institutions or permitted schools; also to higher education institutions.

The structural components of the system suppurtory special education consists of: National Special Education Committee, National Special Education Unit, Special Education Unit Linked to Teachers Colleges, Special Education Resource Centres, Integrated Schools, Special Education Teams and Early Intervention Programmes. It is not possible in this paper to analyze all the different structural components. What can be said, however, is that all the structural components need to be in place and functioning at a reasonable level in all provinces if children with disabilities are to be integrated in the national education system. The fact that there are only 8 Special Education Resource Centres operating in only 7 provinces (including in the NCD) means that a majority of children are not benefiting from this plan and policy.

Consideration should be given to the inclusion of the structural components listed here in the National Information Infrastructure.

Research on Disabilities

Current research efforts on disability is limited to a number of projects and it is focused on informing policy and guiding planning and implementation. The following list of projects provides an indication of data being collected in order to provide policy makers and planners with information on disabilities:

Collection of data from the 8 Special Education Resource Centres: 1994, 1995, 1996.

Survey of attitudes of teachers in schools towards children with disabilities.

Survey of organizations working with 0-7 age group in the NCD.

Inclusion of Disability Package in Police Welfare Handbook.

Monitoring of 1994 & 1995 Graduates from Kaindi and Holy Trinity Teachers Colleges who completed Disability Studies.

Disability Awareness Programmes in the media.

Evaluation of the 1993 Special Education Plan.

Evaluation of Special Education In-Service Training Package Trial Materials.

Knowledge, Attitudes and Beliefs of parents/guardians of children with disabilities under 10 years of age.

Information on Disabilities - Bibliographic Data Base.

Microsoft Access on IBM

Directory type information included

Telikom urged to sponsor a home page on the Website on Internet.

The Special Education Unit of the Department of Education is currently the national focal point for research and information on disabilities. The Special Education Research Sub-Committee assisted by the University of Papua New Guinea is responsible for the design and implementation of research projects and advises the National Special Education Committee of the special education needs throughout the country.

It is anticipated that the Sub-committee will extend its network to include the National Board for the Disabled, community based rehabilitation organizations and organizations of disabled people in order to facilitate and communicate needed information. The research and development component of the National Information Infrastructure should also include collaborative work with the Special Education Research Sub-committee.


In conclusion, the paper has outlined regional and national policies strategies that will enhance the capabilities of disabled people to gather and generate information. A national policy environment has been created which allows disabled people to participate and benefit from development in the country.

Research and the ongoing development of the Special Education Policy within the National Education System is a positive means of enhancing popular participation by disabled people themselves in national development. The structural components of the Special Education Plan and Policy should be included in the National Information Infrastructure as a means to implement a co-ordinated and informed national strategy to allow disabled people access to the national information system which is available to other citizens.

Two recommendations follow from these observations:

1.That the organizations in the National Information Infrastructure urge the Government to become a signator to the ‘Proclamation On The Full Participation And Equality Of People With Disabilities In The Asian And Pacific Region’, and

2.That in policy and practice, disabled people are integrated in the National Information Infrastructure.


Eade, D. and Williams, S. 1995. The Oxfam Handbook of Development and Relief. Volume 1. Oxford: Oxfam.

Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific, 1993. Asia and Pacific Decade of Disabled Persons, 1993 - 2002: The Starting Points. New York: United Nations.

Eva, Rhonda, 1997. Personal Communication. Letter in files of the author University of Papua New Guinea.

Papua New Guinea, Department of Education, 1993. National Special Education Plan and Policy and Guidelines for Special Education.

Papua New Guinea Statistics Office, 1990. National Census.

Papua New Guinea, Special Education Committee, Minutes of Special Education Research Subcommittee No. 1/97, 20.5.97. Department of Education.

Suvulo, N. 1995. Personal Communication, Letter in files of the author University of Papua New Guinea.

Information, Communication and Disability
was written by D. Bruce Yeates, Dean, Faculty of Arts, University of Papua New Guinea
for the 1997 Waigani Seminar
e-mail author:  c/o John Evans evansjoh3@email.com
Papua New Guinea © 2000

Return to top of page

Site Search Engine

Section Directory

. introduction
. strategy
. current status
. government policy
. special education plans
. research on disabilities
. conclusion