Mumbai: Mobility can also mean being able to seamlessly steer through and negotiate one’s way in a jungle of online information to get work done. Any good website should enable that.Yet, not many Indian ones do. At least not for those who can’t see or hear or operate the mouse with ease.
For them, e-mobility or e-access remains as ignored an aspect as mobility in the physical space.
And to think that all it takes to fix this is to conform to the accessibility standards laid down by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) at minimal extra cost. Any good web designer should follow that. And any good government must put a policy in place to ensure that it happens, especially when it is signatory to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of People with Disability, which warrants such action.
Intent, however, isn’t the problem. But limited awareness about how information and services can be best delivered to persons with disabilities is. And for a country with close to 70 million people with disabilities, awareness can mean the difference between booking an e-ticket and buying one from the railways counter, between living independently and relying on others for things they can easily do for themselves.
Addressing this is the recently launched 125-article-rich wiki, being executed by the Centre of Internet and Society (CIS) Bangalore and funded by the National Internet Exchange of India, New Delhi. The wiki intends to be a comprehensive resource for users, caretakers, web developers, NGOs, teachers, and members of legal communities for
information on what technology — hardware and software — and related legislations offer persons with disabilities.
Web standards prescribe that a description of a graphic or a visual be added for the benefit of visually impaired persons so that any screen-reader can read it. For someone with hearing disability, sound alerts should be accompanied by visual cues, and audios tagged. For those who cannot operate the mouse and hence rely on desk keyboards or
onscreen keyboards, developers should incorporate built-in shortcut keys for efficient access.
“But the W3C standards are not binding; it is something countries adopt. In India, these guidelines have been made advisory for Government websites, not mandatory,” says Nirmita Narasimhan, programme manager, CIS, who is also working on drafting the accessibility policy for the Ministry of Communications and Information Technology. Mumbai-based disability activist Nilesh Singit, who has been working on access audits, accessibility and inclusive design, training and research for the past 12 years, says that the standards are simple enough to be used by anyone with basic grasp of HTML. “But some specialised website designers charge high amounts to make websites disabled-friendly. Yes, there are issues of extensive testing of websites to adhere to the standards required. However, there is no relation between the cost and the end product. More awareness needs to be created to break the myth that accessible websites are expensive,” he says.
The Government of India has made accessibility of its websites advisory. But as Nilesh Singit says, if they’re anything like the current railways website — which does little for persons with disability — then it remains to be seen how effective the implementation will be.
Furthermore, the government does not proactively share information with outsiders. “How is one to approach the government unless one knows about the incentives on procurement of assistive technologies, training and awareness camps and educational awareness. Unless this research is made available, you don’t have the base to build on,” says a researcher from the field.