Years After Passage Of Disability Act, Digital Accessibility In India Still A Distant Dream

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. 

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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