Indian websites a closed window

Mahima Sikand | TNN

Mumbai: The internet has been perceived as a levelling field of sorts, but for millions of Indians with visual and hearing disabilities, it is just another level of discrimination.

When it comes to being disabled-friendly, Indian websites are one of the worst in the world—more than 99% of them do not adhere to guidelines outlined by the World Wide Web Consortium in 1999. Known as the W3C access guidelines (W3CAG), these list out the criteria to make websites accessible to all users. Prominent among them is the need to provide “text equivalents”—text, the guideline says, can be output to speech synthesizers and Braille displays. Only one government website, of the ministry of social justice and welfare, can be accessed by a visually handicapped person. More than 5,000 other government portals and thousands of other private websites don’t measure up. In 2009, the government had assured activists that it would revamp 50 websites within months to conform to the W3C access guidelines.

Two years later, the promise remains unfulfilled, even as new websites are being created every day. Javed Abidi, director of the National Centre for Promotion of Employment for Disabled People (NCPEDP), is furious over the government’s inaction but blames private players equally. “The web remains a very unfair platform for its exclusionary approach. Our software designers sitting in Hyderabad and Bangalore design foreign websites that are in keeping with the accessibility guidelines. But when these same people make websites for India, they fail to incorporate adequate design changes. This is just because no one in India cares,” he says.

Ramneek Keshwani is a first generation entrepreneur from Pune who lost his eyesight in an accident when he was 12. “I have never been able to benefit from the internet revolution because I cannot access any of these websites. I am still dependent on someone else to do my work. Isn’t my requirement actually greater than any able-bodied person,” asks Keshwani.

Times of India

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