Many people think of ramps and braille labels whenever they think of accessibility. But, is that it?
Before getting into this question, let’s deal with what accessibility means. Accessibility is when you can access certain things, for economic, social, technological feasibility. The meaning of accessibility is wide and deep and goes beyond popular understanding. There are different hurdles in exercising our right to access resources and opportunities. I am mainly going to deal with accessibility in terms of physical/visual/other body-related disabilities.
Let us talk about our everyday life. There are ramps in many buildings, but we still hear that they are not accessible. Or there is a screen reader, but still, we hear that certain apps or websites are not accessible. Do you ever think about what really makes something accessible?
I am a person with a visual disability. Our lives start with the braille and gradually we grow up to use screen readers. However, this is just a small thing. We, the visually challenged people, rely on our other senses like touch, sounds, smell etc. for our daily requirements.
For us, real accessibility is when we can easily use things by touching, hearing, smelling, and feeling. That’s where braille labelling comes into the picture. We have pasted braille labels on many places as a token. But, do people ever think if we are able to reach these places or not? There are multiple such issues. But let me pick up an issue that I have worked on this year. The issue of screen-readers.
What are screen readers? They are the softwares/applications which reads out things on the screen. For example, while I am typing this blog post, if I move my cursor, it will read out the sentences for us. You might be thinking that our problem is nearly solved. We have softwares that can read out to us. But, the reality is that it is not necessary that having screen readers makes phones or computers accessible.
I wanted to order food but neither Zomato nor Swiggy were accessible to screen-readers. Their application is not compatible with ‘Google Talk Back’, the application I use to read screens on android.
These food aggregators can make their apps accessible by doing something very small- giving dynamic word descriptions to the images in the app. For example, when I go to the main screen of Swiggy, my screen reader does not recognize the things on screen unlike uber eats, or Zomato (after I started a petition change.org/SeeUsZomato)
The lockdown came with different kinds of challenges for this society and more so do for people with visual disabilities. At the time when people were reliant on online delivery, we weren’t able to do because certain apps chose to ignore the accessibility aspect.
Forget people coming from the marginalized section of the society, here even the privileged who could afford smartphones were also not able to access the service of Swiggy and the like. So, unlike a privileged non-challenged person, we weren’t able to order online. And as we rely more on touch to function, we find ourselves more vulnerable to catch the infection which could have been avoided if the accessibility part would have been taken care of!
More than 14,000 people signed my petition asking Zomato to be accessible. Zomato responded and even took me on board for feedback on their updates! I believe in people’s power to support each other in bringing such changes every day. This gave me encouragement to make Swiggy accessible too. My petition, (change.org/SeeUsSwiggy) has more than 17k signatures.
After we didn’t receive a response for long, I asked the people who signed my petition to post reviews on Swiggy’s app on the app store asking for their app to become accessible. You won’t believe what happened! Swiggy responded immediately promising that they will ensure its services are accessed by all. I am still waiting for their updates to roll out. But, there is a promise and there is hope.
Accessibility is not only about screen readers but it also about screen readers for large sections of the visually challenged community. Here are a few instances. In most of ATM machines in India, braille labels are there to guide us. But we are not able to get what action to take in some ATMs, like when to receive cash, insert the card etc. We will only know if there is an audio instruction which few ATMs do have now.
To check whether your ATM machine is accessible or not, check if there are braille labels, then check whether it gives you audio instructions once. Put your headphones in the jack of the machine. If both things are working then only the machine is accessible otherwise it is half or fully inaccessible. Nowadays there is an increase in the use of touch screen card swiping machines, in keypad we were able to enter the pin without the help of others but in increasingly we can’t because most of the machines do not have accessibility support.
Many government websites were, and are, not accessible with screen readers despite the Rights of Persons with Disability Act of 2016 asking to do so. People have to bring that to their attention and then only it works. Many websites have the problem of inaccessible captcha, where audio captcha or OTP based login is not available. People have to fight against IRCTC for the implementation of accessible captcha or alternative login systems and ensure they improve.
I only want to emphasize two things- 1) Accessibility goes beyond just installation of braille labels and ramps or talk-back softwares. We need more and more instances of inclusive planning when it comes to accessibility.
2) People, common citizens have the power to make this world accessible if they raise pertinent issues and support those who are fighting for accessibility. Thousands of people stood by me and now we have major food aggregators working towards
The more accessible this world becomes, the more independent the community will become.
I am thankful to Sabika and Prajakta for their inputs and their help in terms of editing and getting this article published.