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‘We have laws, policies for the disabled –but implementation is missing’

Ensuring digital accessibility is one!

By TechRadar India | Apr 7, 2017, 02.52 PM IST
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Have we reached the right level of awareness on the challenged community in India today?
In a country like India, there can’t be right level for a very long time to come but its like a glass half full or half empty. But there is much more awareness and sensitisation than before but I still think there is a long road ahead of us.

What's the current state of disabled-friendly measures in India from a policy perspective?
We have fairly good legal architecture. We got the new law recently called the Rights of Person with Disabilities Act of 2016. There are many other policies and laws as well like the right to education. What is missing is the implementation aspect of it, that is where the country is found to be wanting.

How has demonetisation affected this community given that our banking facilities aren’t accessible to the disabled people?
I think there was some hardship faced by the people, but it is over. At least I didn’t hear any complaints or any issues.

Do developed countries treat the challenged community differently including considering them as active participants in their economy?
Certainly, the developed countries have far more facilities, stronger laws, and the availability of proper resources. So, in that sense their human rights mechanism is way more stronger than what we have in India right now.

Is the government serious about digital inclusion given its measures and steps?
I think the government is quite serious and at the Prime Minister’s level, there is a lot of push. But again, when it comes to implementation that is where the gaps are.

First of all, disability should not be left only to the Ministry of Social Justice or to the Department of Disability Affairs. Disability is a cross-cutting issue. Ministries such as urban development, rural development, railways, civil aviation, sports, information broadcasting, IT, and HRD are as much responsible for people with disabilities as anyone else. All these ministries must be made responsible and must be held accountable. That is what I think is the missing piece in the puzzle.

Majority of the websites in India including the government portals aren’t accessible to the blind! How do you see this?
Technology is a great leveller, provided that is it accessible. Unfortunately, websites in India including the government portals are not accessible to the blind. The recently launched app by Prime Minister Modi with great fanfare —BHIM is itself not accessible to blind. A person with visual impairment in our country is still as dependent on someone as he was earlier. So, there is no use of technology if it’s not accessible, usable or affordable. Both the accessibility and affordability of the technology should be kept in mind.

With Google, Facebook, Microsoft taking interest rolling out new assistive tech, do you think the scenario is going to change soon?
Assistive technology is available but is it available to the common man. That’s the question. So once again the issue of awareness, accessibility and affordability comes in to the picture.

Today only, while taking a look at a very interesting device for blind people, I realised that the device costs $500. Now you tell me, how many will be able to buy it?

The last words
Accessibility is the bedrock of empowerment. If you think about it, employment is not possible without education. Nobody will give you a job out of charity or pity, you have to be educated and skilled. None of these is possible without accessibility.

While we have been working on physical accessibility, it’s time we should embrace digital accessibility, especially for the visually impaired.

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