The increasing focus on digital governance and the availability of assistive technologies have proven to be both empowering and frustrating for persons with disabilities, who would number around 150 million in India. Government initiatives like Digital India are increasingly delivering basic government functions through information technologies, but many of these are still inaccessible for users with visual or other disabilities.
"Research has revealed that many Indian government websites, Indian government apps, and privately owned apps are completely or partially inaccessible to persons with disabilities, resulting in their exclusion. With app usage growing over 40% every year, Indians with disabilities are at risk of being excluded from society as everyday activities such as managing their finances, keeping in touch with friends, or staying in touch with their government representatives becomes impossible," says a press release from the Centre for Internet and Society (CIS).
"Digital technologies have the potential to empower every person in the world and make it a better place to live in," said Nirmita Narasimhan, of the CIS. "We just need to ensure that we put accessibility standards and universal design at the core of all technology development and use."
For instance, consider EPathshala. This app, created by the National Council of Educational Research and Training (NCERT), lets students, educators and parents access educational e-books and other content from their mobile phones. However, the app is completely unusable for persons with disabilities. The first screen that allows language selection is not labelled properly - only the Hindi and English buttons are correctly announced. Many of the options that are available on the screen are not labelled with text, only graphics, which a screen reader cannot parse. Furthermore, the books themselves are PDF or JPEG images, which cannot be read using a screen reader, and the reading mode available for the books is also inaccessible.
Other widely used apps, such as BHIM, Ola and Swiggy, also have similar problems, effectively locking out a significant section of people from enjoying the country's digital revolution.
With the passage of the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act in December 2016, India granted new rights and protections to citizens with disabilities. These include equal access to education, employment, social welfare and participation in everyday society.
While previous legislation such as the Guidelines on Indian Government Websites (2009) or the National Policy on Universal Electronic Accessibility (2013) also mandated equal digital access for persons with disabilities, the implementation of these policies leaves much to be desired.
To raise awareness around these issues, Prakat Solutions, in partnership with CIS and the Mitra Jyothi Trust, have organised the Global Accessibility Awareness Day (GAAD) on 18th May.
"GAAD is a wonderful initiative to foster thought provoking conversations and drive initiatives to build Inclusive software and workforce to provide equal opportunities to people from all walks of life, including the differently abled," said Anuradha Biswas, founder and CEO of Prakat Solutions. "The event focuses on bringing eminent speakers and achievers in this field and share their success stories and thoughts for making this a bigger reality."