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Un expert Group Meeting Mada – Qatar Assistive Technology Center, Case Study and Best Practice Prepared by David Banes, ceo, Mada Center

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UN Expert Group Meeting

Mada – Qatar Assistive Technology Center, Case Study and Best Practice

Prepared by David Banes, CEO, Mada Center (Qatar Assistive Technology and Accessibility Center)


Contents 1

ii. Overall objectives of the selected case/practices; 2

iii. Process/strategy used to implement the selected case/practices; 2

iv. Business model and sustainability 3

v. What exact changes/progress was achieved and how results were monitored/evaluated; 4

vi. Factors facilitating and /or hindering the success of the practice (learning points); 5

vii. Ways in which the selected practices could have been improved? 6

viii. Other general lessons learnt; 7

ix. References to relevant documents; 7

x. contact details for further information/reference 8

i. Background of the selected case/good practice;

The Mada (Qatar assistive technology and accessibility center) opened in June 2010, as a practical response to Qatar becoming a signatory to the UN Convention on the rights of personas with a disability. The center has a mandate to connect people with a disability to technology through the provision and support of accessible technology and through the growth of accessible digital content. It was established as a public/private partnership by ictQatar, the regulatory authority for telecommunications in Qatar, with the active support of both NGO’s and the private sector in Qatar. The board of directors of Mada center includes senior executives or country managers of Microsoft, Qatar National Bank, Qtel and Vodafone.

The center provides a one stop shop for all aspects of accessible technologies for people with a disability. This includes a drop in resource center, assessments within the center and within the community, training for disabled people and other stakeholders including professionals and parents, technical support and funding to supply the assistive technologies required by people with a disability. The center also offers eAccessibility services including website, document and kiosk accessibility advice and audit and has a research and development function that supports the creation and localization of software and content for the use of Arabic speaking people with a disability

At the heart of the work of the center is partnership. Mada has strategic partnerships with other organizations serving people with a disability within Qatar, including rehabilitation services and schools. It also works directly with government departments to provide advice and guidance and finally with the private sector to develop services in keeping with the needs and aspirations of disabled people in Qatar.

ii. Overall objectives of the selected case/practices;

The Qatar National Vision 2030 calls for a country that is a knowledge-based economy characterized by innovation, entrepreneurship, excellence in education, and a world class infrastructure, efficient delivery of public services, an inclusive society and a transparent and accountable government. For Qatar to achieve its broader socio-economic development goals as articulated in its National Vision 2030, Qatar should ensure an inclusive society.

The strategic vision of Mada is to connect people with disabilities to Information and communication Technology to make life easier, smarter and better.

The strategic mission of Mada is:

  • To ensure that people with disabilities within Qatar have access to the technology they require to fulfil their potential.

  • To play a leadership role in providing Assistive Technology (AT) solutions, up to-date information on the latest AT, and training for people with disabilities, parents, and professionals.

  • To provide impartial expert advice and assessment on best practices in ICT related access.

  • To promote innovation in the field of AT.

Mada’s Assistive Technology strategy will make access to ICT technologies and the knowledge economy in a way that is fundamental to people with special needs, so that they can freely access services, advance their independence, and improve their lives; It will address the barriers by working in partnership with key stakeholders to find innovative solutions to bridging the digital divide.

iii. Process/strategy used to implement the selected case/practices;

Initially a series of working groups were established to identify the needs and requirements of people with a disability in Qatar. Representatives of all of the disabled peoples organizations, government functions and business met across a two year period to identify the services and skills needed to deliver digital inclusion for people with a disability within Qatar. With the advice of these working groups, and under the direction of the secretary general of ictQatar, Dr Hessa al Jaber, the first appointments to the team in Qatar were made. These initial appointments then enhanced their knowledge by procuring consultancy from existing AT services from Europe to shape and prepare the center for opening.

During this period further appointments of a management team and professionals were made. These teams sought balance local knowledge and experience in Qatar, recognizing the specific values and traditions of Qatar whilst drawing upon assistive technology professionals as expatriates to leverage their extensive experience in the field to design services that represented best practice.

As the executive were established, the working groups were dissolved and the board of directors formed to guide the strategy of Mada over the coming years.

One of the key lessons that became clear at this stage is that emerging AT services needed to be based upon local values, but successful implementation needed to draw upon past experience. If no history of assistive technology services exists within a community then it is essential that experience is leveraged from elsewhere.

iv. Business model and sustainability

Funding for Mada is derived from a levy upon the turnover of the telecommunications companies in Qatar. The funding is based upon a % of turnover that is paid to the ministry of finance for good works, this money is then channeled to Mada through ictQatar. Mada is independent of ictQatar but has significantly reduced overheads through the provision of facilities, offices, telecommunications and support to HR and finance functions provided by the authority.

This funding model is extended with partner organizations through a process of affinity CSR activities in which the partners and supporters have developed a CSR relationship with Mada that is in line with their core business and business objectives. Practical examples of this include :-

  • Connected Initiative with Qtel

The partnership with Qtel led to a number of key benefits to disabled users these included

    • 50% reduction on all tariffs including mobile broadband

    • Free specialized handsets for simple use

    • Free selection of Assistive Technologies for use with mobile phones

    • Increased accessibility of shops

    • Increased accessibility of website

Mada played a key role in providing assessment and advice services to potential Qtel customers with a disability to ensure that they were selecting a package and handset that met their needs in both form and function. This will soon be extended by including a point of sale within the Mada center to accelerate uptake of the offering.

With Microsoft, a focus was made on supporting long term patients of wards at the hospital in Doha through the use of innovative technologies. This has included the use of xbox 360 to support leisure and rehabilitation and video and voice services via a PC to facilitate connections to family and friends outside of the hospital.

A second focus was to redesign the Microsoft digital literacy curriculum materials in English and Arabic to support accessibility. This resulted in a pendrive with the voiced, animated materials alongside a text only version which works well with screenreaders. 500 copies of these materials are currently being distributed.

  • Accessible ATM’s with QNB

Following discussions and review, and linked to the eAccessibility policy of Qatar, QNB undertook to procure accessible ATM’s for strategic locations throughout Qatar. Mada supported the bank by reviewing proposals from vendors on behalf of QNB and highlighting best practice and confirming that proposals complied with international standards for accessibility.

The National Command Center and Ministry of the Interior in Qatar operate the call center for all emergency services in the country. They wished to introduce a total conversation model to facilitate direct contact with deaf and disabled people in Qatar. Mada undertook a review of best practice, and peer reviewed the proposals for a solution. These proposals are now in the process of being implemented by Qtel with the ministry.

v. What exact changes/progress was achieved and how results were monitored/evaluated;

During the first full year of operations Mada achieved a significant level of activity across all of its activities

These included

Target Actual to date

Visitors 480 763

Assessments 300 450

Assessment Sessions 450 873

Provision 400 494 + 180 (clicker)

Courses 30 55

Attendees 300 695

eAccess Audits 6 16

Products localized 6 8 complete

2 in progress

These illustrate the growing awareness of solutions that is being engendered in the country and the successful strategy of engagement with disabled people that combined public awareness with a center open to provide advice along with delivery through channels and partners

Mada has completed a benchmark report of the use of Assistive technologies in Qatar which demonstrated that in most areas there was a reasonable level of awareness of AT but that usage was extremely limited. The benchmark report will be used as the basis for further review in 2012/13 to gauge success and improvements in uptake of technologies

One factor that seriously hindered the uptake of technologies was the lack of suitable Arabic products. By the end of March 2012 Mada had successfully nurtured 8 new products, including freely distributable solutions to enhance the opportunities for Arabic speaking people with a disability. Now completed they will be released intothe market during the coming 6 months.

vi. Factors facilitating and /or hindering the success of the practice (learning points);

Three key factors that greatly facilitated the development of the center and the delivery of services were :-

  • Multi tiered partnerships

Successful implementation of an AT service required a very wide range of partnerships to be developed. In Qatar these needed to include other organizations for people with a disability, IT and telecommunications industry, NGO’s, regulatory authority and government departments. Without working relationships with each, with clear mandate and remit for joint activity it is very difficult to deliver the full vision.

  • Understanding full Ecosystem

Mada realized that a cohesive and coherent approach to the delivery of all the services required to support digital inclusion was extremely powerful. If a single point of contact is not feasible from one organization then it is essential that a gateway or portal to a full range of services is established to avoid confusion for users and professionals

  • eAccessibility policy

The support of the regulatory authority in establishing a clear role and mandate for Mada within the country is an extremely powerful mechanism in accelerating change.

Three factors that were especially challenging during the startup phase of the project were :-

  • Lack of informed awareness

One challenge at an early stage is that snippets of information are collected by people with a disability and their supporters based on available information on the web. As there is an acute lack of information in Arabic, this data is being gleaned from second language material without any mediation or guide to the accuracy of the information. As a result there was a long history of ad hoc purchases of technology by organizations and individuals which often failed to deliver anticipated results and led to a general disillusion with technology adaptations for disabled users.

  • Language barriers

There are a number of issues that then merge related to limitations caused by a lack of consistency of the availability of assistive technologies across languages. At a very early stage Mada undertook to work closely with AT vendors to localize tried and tested Assistive technology solutions to support Arabic, as increased numbers of Arabic solutions become available, along with training materials, so the confidence in the potential of technology can be regained. Importantly this investment has also included support for open source and freely distributable assistive technologies to lower the entry level cost of assistive technology and the release of materials under creative commons license to support emerging AT services within the Arabic community and beyond.

  • Managing Expectations

Fed mostly by word of mouth the demand for services has risen markedly and expectations are in line with this rise. Managing the demand and seeking new ways of supporting people with a disability though self help resources is essential to ensure that the reach of the service continues to be extended within Qatar.

vii. Ways in which the selected practices could have been improved?

Two key relationships were not fully developed in the early months of the service. With hindsight both would have had significant benefits to the growth of the center.

There would have been significant benefits to the early credibility of the service and model if impact had been enhanced by business offerings from partners at the point of opening. This would have clearly enhanced the concept of the service as being at the heart of a network, rather than in parallel.

  • Greater links to universities and ICT research within the region

The region is engaged in significant research into technology which will have widespread applications. Involving the research community in the early planning of Mada might have helped direct some of that research into aspects of digital inclusion for disabled people, and second might have helped with new research projects that could have led to student and research involvement in the activity of the center at an earlier stage.

viii. Other general lessons learnt;

  • International relations

The center exists as part of an international assistive technology and accessibility community. Drawing upon experience of that community in shaping services that meet local needs and preferences is extremely important. One key lesson learned is that the level of mutual support across the assistive technology community is significant if leveraged effectively and that new centers both contribute and draw from that community.

Similarly the ability to share and reuse resources published under creative commons or other forms of open licence is extremely valuable in building a knowledge base that can be translated and localized for non commercial use. Creative commons is also extremely powerful in facilitating the translation of materials into a range of alternative formats such as Daisy, Braille and Mp3 for use by people with a range of print impairments

  • Importance of blend of national knowledge and international experience

Whilst international experience and knowledge is critical to accelerate the growth of a center. It is essential that international models are not simply replicated. Services must be responsive to local values, culture and preferences, and importantly needs to aim to build local capacity by supporting the development of skills and understanding within a language or geographical community. This can only be done by embedding the services at the grassroots, and being extremely responsive to local feedback

ix. References to relevant documents;

Further information on Mada and its experience can be found at in Arabic and English. Mada also utilizes social networking extensively to promote information and raise awareness of the IT as a great enabler for people with a disability. Mada can be found on

Twitter @madaqatc


Mada is undertaking work on eLearning on assistive technologies at

  • A thorough review of our activity can be found at

  • Mada impact report 2010-2011 can be found at

  • The accessible version of the Imkaan digital literacy materials can be found at

  • Mada Business case for Arabic Assistive Technologies can be found at

  • Mada guides and information resources can be found at

  • Information on the partnership with Qtel can be found at

  • Qatar Web accreditation information is at

  • Qatar eAccessibility policy and implementation plan can be found at

x. contact details for further information/reference

D Banes Chief Executive or on twitter via @davebanesaccess

A Habib Head of Communications

Mada center telephone number +974 4459 4050

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