QATAR - Telecoms & IT
CEO, MADA (Qatar Assistive Technology Center)
David Banes is CEO of MADA: the Qatar Assistive Technology and Accessibility Center. He has worked in Doha for the past two years, firstly as Deputy CEO, and more recently as CEO and has been charged with developing services to ensure that people with a disability in Qatar are digitally included. Prior to assuming his post in Qatar, he had worked as a teacher of people with special needs and principal of a school before working in the realm of digital inclusion in the UK and Europe as Director of Operations and Development for a UK NGO.
MADA has a really simple mission, which is to connect people with disabilities to technology, regardless of age, aspiration, or setting. Our mission is to help people with learning, visual, hearing, and physical disabilities to use technology for whatever purpose, and to increase their opportunities in terms of education, employment, quality of life, and social inclusion. We start by assessing clients and offering advice on their own personal technology needs. Having selected a technology, we provide that tool, be it hardware or software, and give the individual the training and technical support needed to utilize it. That’s done on an individual basis, and sometimes in small groups. Another significant role of ours is building accessible digital Arabic content, which relates to our final area of activity, which is R&D. We have invested in companies, consortia, sourced technology, and co-proprietary software to bring Arabic-assistive technology to the region. The key consideration is that now we are seeing other organizations within the GCC and elsewhere starting to develop solutions, which allows MADA to shift toward supporting Arabic innovation and creativity, rather than simply transferring existing software.
We consider our role in this system as being that of a trusted intermediary. The concept is that people with disabilities trust us to provide independent advice, while companies and organizations equally trust us to represent the disabled and their needs, as well as to explain how those needs can best be met. In return, those companies provide services and products that can be delivered to people with disabilities and special needs. With Oooredoo and Vodafone, we worked well together by starting an initiative called connected, where both companies offer discounted tariffs, handsets, and accessible web information to people with disabilities. QNB did some really nice work in facilitating the process of purchasing accessible ATMs. Microsoft products are available throughout Qatar, and we make sure people are aware of the accessibility features that such companies have built into their products. We try to make sure that companies exploit the technology they already have for the benefit of all their employees, before they go out and invest in new systems.
A number of us had come from assistive technologies backgrounds in other parts of the world, so we had a very strong sense of what was possible. We realized that simply translating those technologies failed to recognize specific linguistic and cultural needs. We also realized that there was no sense of there being a disabled community here. Our R&D function initially looked at the best products, and we approached companies and seed funded the development of those products to support Arabic language and culture. At the time, there were few companies—other than those serving the blind community—that did anything in this area, or even in the region. Mostly, they were either re-sold Western products, or in the case of the blind community, there were one or two products that were specifically designed for Arabic language speakers. Firstly, we built a market within the region. We can now start our own research and development function by examining the gaps. We’ve partnered the Qatari Computer Research Institute (QCRI) in addressing some of these issues.
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