Despite the growing progress in technology and India’s home-grown initiatives like Digital India and Make in India—we yet have a long way to go to provide an inclusive space for People with Disabilities.
In the United States, the laws require Federal agencies to ensure that Electronic and Information Technology (EIT) is accessible for PwD. Further, the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG 2.1) – a globally recognised consensus standard for web content and ICT too, requires all websites to provide accessibility for PwD. As per the guidelines, assistance by the assistive technology is required not only to broaden the user-base but also to provide equal space for all.
For example, screen magnifiers can benefit people with low vision; screen readers can help people with blindness and speech recognition software can be used for people with physical disabilities. These simple facilities can bring about a marginal difference for people in need of such assistance. Moreover, the guidelines clearly provide information as to what all needs to be included such as, the necessities to provide a Captcha; guidelines to provide captions and audio descriptions; Images of texts etc. These guidelines thus, serve as a means to formulate adequate laws and policies to account for PwD and integrate them into mainstream society.
It is a fact that the growing technology has helped PwD by leaps and bounds and has made lives easier for all of us. Proper utilization of assistive technology will provide PwD with a platform to display their creativity and be more independent, productive and included in society. Further, assistive technology plays a key role in making educational environments inclusive of students with disabilities, while the same can also provide an equal opportunity workspace for PwD. Stephen Hawking is one of the best examples to understand how assistive technology has changed lives for those with disabilities.
If we look at the different software available, there is no doubt that Office 365 is among the most accessible software for PwD. This software provides various features that can enhance a users accessibility and experience. For example, people with visual impairment can use Office 365’s feature of ‘Screen Readers’ that provides step by step guidance as per the application the user is using; ‘Tell Me’ that assists with formatting, discovering the difficult-to-find capabilities of the software. This will help empower people with visual impairment or blindness. Similarly, features like ‘Microsoft Translator’ and ‘Sway’ can enable a user to add captions for embedded videos and make the experience more user-friendly for people with hearing impairment. Further, it also has other useful features like ‘Dictate’ that empowers people with mobility issues to access the software without having to struggle too much with the inaccessibility of other standard software or websites.
On the other hand, accounting software like Tally continues to be inaccessible to the blind, in turn keeping them away from potential jobs at offices that use them.
The cloud-based virtual desktop infrastructure, too, provides broad access for PwD in terms of discipline-specific applications and software designed for individuals with disabilities. Moreover, cloud computing can help empower PwD by offering increased independence and opportunities to participate in the workspace. In fact, research argues ‘that cloud can be an important platform for increasing the independence of people with disabilities, but industry and government need a conscious approach to accessibility’.
Disappointingly, even though the RPWD Act, 2016 requires the government to provide accessibility and appropriate technologies and systems along with other accessible facilities and services, there is a lack of initiative towards inclusion for PwD. Despite the Digital India initiative, very few websites and technological innovations seem to have responded to the need of PwD. Further, only the portal of Digital India seems accessible while there is very little accountability on others to provide similar features. If provisions for PwD are not made mandatory, then the lack of accountability will cause a havoc leading to more unequal and exclusive society for people with disabilities.
It is important and urgent for governments to adopt appropriate policies and measures to bring justice for persons with disabilities and include them in mainstream society. We wait for India, to respond appropriately, use technology, and ensure barrier-free access for everyone.
Nipun Malhotra, a disability rights activist, is CEO, Nipman Foundation and Founder, Wheels For Life. His Twitter handle is @nipunmalhotra.