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Making the net accessible for people with disabilities

Making the net accessible for people with disabilities

The government, be it thought the department of social justice, the national disability commissioner or the state disability commissions need to urge government departments and the National Informatics Centre (NIC) to first make their sites disabled friendly and then spread the message to the private sector more authoritatively.

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The internet is undoubtedly a hoard of information so complex and infinite in its scope that those with access to it can teach themselves anything, from cooking, to all about brain surgery. And in a world where more and more information is being put into the public domain it is a relevant question to ask, are all people, especially those with disabilities, equally benefiting from the internet?

This question is especially relevant for those who are visually impaired, have low vision, hearing loss, learning disabilities, cognitive limitations, cerebral palsy, limited movement, and others. Their access to schools, universities and other public places of learning are limited, precisely because of their special learning needs and the internet promises to be the one stop solution to their need for information and knowledge, if only the information is ‘accessible’.

With the trend towards pictures, graphics, sound and flash, the information on the internet is largely inaccessible, additionally; software professionals are yet to get sensitive to the varying needs of nearly seven per cent of the population with disability, and introduce technological and attitudinal changes accordingly.

Currently, countries like the US have a legislation that require websites to meet accessibility standards like Section 508 which provides that a text equivalent be given for every non-text element. In the UK too, government websites are required to be in compliance with Publicly Available Specification (PAS) 78, which outlines good practices for those commissioning websites. Canada and Australia have similar policies and so do a few other countries.

India ratified the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, in 2007. This convention stipulates that all electronic communication like websites, radio and television should be made accessible to all; including persons with disabilities (PwDs) and that private entities be encouraged to also do so. However, the last year has seen little headway in this direction.
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According to the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) the four principles that are the foundation for making a website accessible for PwDs are perception, operable, understandable, and robustness. And to achieve this, it is essential that several different components of web development work together, these components include: the web page content, web application, the web browsers, media players and other ‘user agents’, assistive technology like the screen readers, alternative keyboards and scanning software, authoring tools and evaluation tools. All these are to be made friendly, so that anybody with a disability can successfully read a web page.

In a country like India the internet is beginning to make its presence felt even in remote villages, it is thus imperative that we begin seriously thinking of how to make the internet “accessible to all”.

The government, be it thought the department of social justice, the national disability commissioner or the state disability commissions need to urge government departments and the National Informatics Centre (NIC) to first make their sites disabled friendly and then spread the message to the private sector more authoritatively.

PARA NOT PUBLISHED

[Interestingly, Bangalore has an initiative on making websites e-accessible and if you would like to volunteer some time, please get in touch with The Centre for Internet and Society, No. D2, 3rd Floor, Sheriff Chambers, 14, Cunningham Road, Bangalore, Phone: (+91)-080-4092-6283‎]

(The writer is a member of DisAbilityFirst, an advocacy group working on issues of disability)

This article was published in the Bangalore Edition of the Deccan Herald on 20th November 2008 and can be accessed from the following link

http://www.deccanherald.com/Content/Nov202008/netmail20081119101665.asp

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