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Microsoft Teams Is Changing The Way Persons With Disabilities Communicate

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With the world in lockdown courtesy COVID–19, we are finding new and innovative ways to communicate. Physical distancing and isolation are increasing the pace at which we embrace digital technologies – for both work and leisure. At the forefront of this change is online video calling.

For us, the disabled, the battle for accessibility has moved from the physical environment to our computer screens.

Having tried at least half a dozen such video communication technologies, I find it safe to say that Microsoft Teams is miles ahead when it comes to accessibility and persons with disabilities.

I was born with a locomotor disability called arthrogryposis, leading to restricted muscle growth in my arms and legs. What this basically means is that my hand movement is very limited. I tried Teams earlier this year and have been hooked on since. With everything in one central location, the application is much easier to use for me compared to others. What I also love about Teams is it’s unique keyboard shortcuts and reduced input sequences through which complex navigations are further simplified for me.

Teams is not only helping persons with restricted movement like myself. Take my friend Vineet Saraiwala, for example. Vineet was diagnosed with Retinitis Pigmentosa (RP), a rare genetic disorder leading to loss of vision at the age of 16. That didn’t stop him from running marathons, studying at IIM Bangalore and later making shopping accessible at Big Bazaar.

At such a time, Microsoft Teams has been a saviour for Vineet to interact with his friends, colleagues and acquaintances. “The interface of Teams is extremely screen reader-friendly with neat labelling of menus and all the access buttons,” Vineet told me. He further added, “I love the toggle buttons on the main screen  which are easy to access during conversations where you need to constantly mute/unmute or turn on/off the camera.”

What most of my blind and low vision friends love about Teams is the fact that app navigation is seamless through the screen reader and magnifier. With Ease of Access efficiently synchronised with Teams, users can choose from different backgrounds, colour filters and contrasts, remove colour altogether, add sound alerts and even increase the size of the mouse and font. These features have enabled people with light sensitivity, low vision, colour-blindness and the Blind to access and use the application with as much ease as the non-disabled.

Tina Saighal is the founder of Sanket Foundation, a school for the deaf and hard of hearing in Gurgaon. A Columbia MBA, Tina happens to be a hard of hearing person herself. If it wasn’t for Teams, working from home would have been a challenge for Tina through the lockdown. In Tina’s own words, “The meeting app enables subtitles which is particularly helpful for a hard of hearing person like me understand and participate in all meetings.”

With multi-lingual live captioning, Teams has the potential to change the way the deaf and hard of hearing like Tina communicate. With real-time captioning, deaf individuals now have the option to read and participate in conversations. Users can also enable the inbuilt Text Telephone feature which converts audio to text and vice versa to make communication easy for the deaf and those with speech disabilities.

This is not all that Teams offers the deaf. It’s just the start. One of the most interesting accessibility features I discovered in Teams is the option to blur the background in a video call. On further research, I learnt that it was developed by a deaf employee at Microsoft who would lip read during video calls. By blurring the background she can focus better on people’s lips while blocking all background interferences. Now users can enable this feature any time by a simple click of a button.

Teams has also incorporated Microsoft’s very successful immersive reader, that has become the go-to tool to simplify learning for those with learning disabilities.

Accessibility features have made Teams an extremely popular application amongst organisations working with Persons with Disability too. EnAble India, a leading skilling organisation based out of Bangalore is using Microsoft Teams to conduct online computer trainings on topics ranging from PowerPoint to learning Kannada.

As per Shanti Raghavan, Founder EnAble India, “In terms of inclusive features for the deaf and blind, Teams is ahead of other applications and we recommend it highly. In Microsoft products, accessibility for all kinds of disabilities can be enabled by the click of a button even for novice users.”

Accessible technologies can ensure that persons with disabilities be part of society during these challenging times. A conscious effort to move towards accessible technologies leads to innovations that empower everyone.

Teams has been a game-changer in the way conversations are taking place. However, it’s time that technology companies, governments and the public at large recognise and accept the importance of digital accessibility. Such a change can go a long way in mainstreaming 15% of the world’s population and make the world a more equal place.

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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, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in’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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