The future of assistive technologies

“The government believes that we have 2.5% of our population which is disabled. Our view is that it is probably 7.5% according to WHO.

Sunil Rajguru
New Update

Edited excerpts from an exhaustive video interview with Som Mittal, Former President & Chairman, NASSCOM...


“The government believes that we have 2.5% of our population which is disabled. Our view is that it is probably 7.5%. This is the view of the World Bank and WHO. An Act that was passed in 2016 started recognizing 21 disabilities when earlier we were looking at 8. In addition to people who have congenital issues, we have an aging population, people who become disabled due to age, accidents, etc.

NASSCOM’s role in accessibility

When we formed the DAG (Disability Advisory Group) in NASSCOM, our main approach was how can accessibility be dealt with. That is physical access, access to technology, access to education, and access to employment. For us in assistive technologies, the main criteria are: Is that making them inclusive to the society rather than excluding them?


Why should everything not be designed in a manner that is accessible to everyone? There are many assistive technologies that don’t cost you money. It is about following certain standards. The reason that NASSCOM got involved is that everything is becoming digital.

What the industry can do

If the main IT companies and product people happened to consider disability as a market, why would they deny a market of 8.5 crores because their products are not accessible to them? There are many startups that are working on innovative ideas. We at the NCPEDP (National Centre for Promotion of Employment for Disabled People) every year give awards for universal design. There have been some amazing products.


For example, there were five different people who made innovative walking canes, like with lights, those who talked, etc. But they never got commercialized. The penchant among investors is less. So, from lab to commercialization there is hand-holding is required.

It takes both the government and industry to get together to do it. The USA for example has an association for assistive technologies. Why not an Assistive Technology Incubator where the standards are available, and people are sharing their needs? We can get the users involved. There may be a unicorn in making in the assistive technology domain.

Going ahead with assistive technologies


Your mobile phone has a setting called assistive/accessibility. If you switch that on, the phone speaks out the text, the visuals increase in size, and in many cases, a very small app speaks out the color. We did an event where a speaker was fully visually impaired and traveled from Mumbai to Bengaluru. He travels all over the world and was the best-dressed person in the room with coordinated clothes.

He said that he uses a tool that tells the color of the tie or shirt when he points to it. Further, there is a lens you can where which will use AI to identify the person in front of you and speak out the name and even identify the color of the shirt, say. Some of these technologies can be scaled. Large companies can take this up and price them suitably.

There are many people in villages who are disabled and think they are blind but have cataracts. There is a hospital that has broken up the process with a single torch and a trained professional. They’re able to diagnose whether a person has a cataract, without him coming to the city, and whether he is ready for surgery. We need to design more of this and have a focus.


People who are hearing impaired manage with sign language. But then you require a sign interpreter. With AI you could convert your speech into gestures with a visual robotic movement. Further, they are not able to speak because they don’t hear despite having proper vocal cords. There are technologies that can make them speak and AI can keep refining it.

People who have lost their voice, have aphasia and have a shortage of therapists and techs who can aid them. With 3D printing, you can make prosthetic arms and legs along with customized devices to suit individual needs.

I think that the networks are reaching rural areas where the masses are and hence, I think for us the ease of access is there provided we all put this together. Now you can do a lot of stuff online and get access. But we have ignored this sector for too long now.


21 technologies for 21 disabilities

P.S. Som Mittal suggested the idea that PCQuest takes up each of the 21 disabilities and explores “which technology can help with which disability” through regular features. We remain committed to this.”

These are excerpts from a video chat with Editor Sunil Rajguru and part of our PCQuest 35 Years Series on the Yesterday, Today & Tomorrow of Technology.

Check out the complete interview...