by March 5, 2012 0 comments

Slowly but positively, India is responding to the call of inclusion. The recently held pan-disability conference and exhibition called Techshare organized by BarrierBreak Technologies in association with National Center for Promotion of Employment for Disabled People (NCPEDP) witnessed a howling response from corporates, NGOs and government.

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The two-day event Techshare India 2012 had several participants including Microsoft, Yahoo! Infosys wherein they showcased path-breaking products and discussed about web accessibility and access to assistive technology for the disabled people of the country.

‘India is leading the way globally in technological advances and yet, in our backyard our disabled citizens are sorely deprived of the same advances,’ says Javed Abidi, Director of NCPEDP. In any developed country, practically each city would have outlets where people with disabilities can go and check out options and customize them for their own needs, he adds.

Ironically, the concept of disability goods is still alien to India. Despite the guidelines for Indian government websites mandating WCAG 2.0 compliance set back in 2009, its abysmally poor implementation is a concern. The vast work of augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) is uncharted and is mostly relegated to labs with no plans of upscaling or mass production. The disability goods that are available are expensive and beyond the reach of an average Indian.

‘Schemes like Assistance to Disabled Persons Scheme (ADIP) that distributes wheelchairs, hearing aids, etc isn’t just enough to the multitude disabled. What is needed is a resource center in each district for the disabled to go and explore various assistive tools,’ concludes Abidi.

Techshare wants to create awareness and ensure as many people as possible benefit from the improvements already achieved. In India, it’s time we ensure everyone benefits from what you are achieving — from technical innovations to new skills and workarounds, says Stephen King, Director, Royal National Institute of Blind People and President of DAISY Consortium.

In a country where we have around 70 million people who are disabled, the measures we have in place for them are just not adequate. We need to have a broad strategy to educate impaired people, provide them more devices and assistive tools and bring them in the bigger and inclusive picture. Said Shilpi Kapoor, Director of BarrierBreak Technologies. In today’s world, we’re connected to real-time communications. The Internet Cloud has become more powerful and reliable, able to store and transmit large amounts of information. Services are delivered to our device of choice, be it a PC, or a smart device. Similarly assistive technologies have come a long way and is critical to emerging world of continuous services and connected devices.

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Making technology accessible to differently-abled

There is a wide variety in the level of people’s disabilities. One person may experience a persistent disability such as permanent vision loss; another may face vision strain at the end of a long working day. The value of making technology accessible is that it can be used by a broad set of people. It can adapt as the person’s abilities change. Inclusive innovation brings people with disabilities upstream into the design process because they are expert users of technology. Asserts Rob Sinclair, Chief Accessibility Officer of Microsoft. They are highly skilled users of screen readers, voice recognition and alternative formats for consuming content. The technology community needs to leverage these individuals’ expertise to create better technology for everyone, adds Rob. Microsoft applies an integrated approach to inclusive innovation to address the wide variety of physical and cognitive needs of individuals, to spur innovation in accessible technology and to engineer a global ecosystem that can effectively mange dynamic components, concludes Rob.

Time to look beyond

It’s time we bring all disabled students to the mainstream classrooms, listen to the call of the times and make way for technology in our policies. Technology would not only make education accessible for all, it would open doorways to careers for them in the interest of the nation.

Can accessible gaming be fun? Playing games is a basic human instinct and people with disabilities are no exception. The advent of digital games playable on PCs or on mobile phones offers enormous opportunities for gamers with disabilities. But findings from survey say otherwise, says Dr Ajay Kolhatkar, Research analyst of Infosys Technologies, accessibility needs are being ignored by game developers due to assumptions that incorporating accessibility in games is not worth the return and there are not many players who need accessibility. So, it’s time to look beyond and create awareness about the need and relevance for accessible games for a variety of end result such as training, capability enhancement and social interaction.

The efforts to enhance the accessibility of World Wide Web for people with disabilities is also the call of the hour. Making websites more accessible across user agents and devices is not without having challenges given the multiplicity and complexity of Indian languages. However, as Country Manager of W3 India, Swaran Lata puts forth, National initiatives have already taken for developing accessible technologies to proliferate the benefits of ICT to the differently abled section of society.

The development of text-to-speech system is one of the major technology development in India taken by TDIL Program. The other initiates that have already taken are creation of guidelines for govt websites by NIC, implementation of WCAG 2.0 accessibility by STQC.

Accessibility should be a key consideration during product design, development and testing, emphasizes Alok Lall, Director, Office Marketing, Microsoft. Many Microsoft products feature accessibility and personalization options, adds Alok. Windows 7, for instance, has Ease of Access Center for disable users to explore accessibility options. Windows is also compatible with a wide range of assistive technology products such as screen readers, magnifiers and specialty hardware. MS Office 2010 is no different. The addition of ‘Save as DAISY” makes it easy to publish Word documents in an accessible format. Similarly CQ5 Web Content Management from Adobe is a platform that supports standard accessibility features including alternative text for images.

‘If mainstream digital books are made accessible, we not only increase number of books available as accessible format, but also save those resources spent on republishing the books by charities and government establishments, says Prashant R Verma of DAISY Con­sortium. The consortium helped create EPUB standa­rd books which are completely accessible with navigation, readability and convertibility features. Introduction of EPUB digital books at the mainstream level could really be a boon for the differently-abled people, claims Prashant. With the growing usage of web on mobile devices, developers feel the need to create sites that are accessible and user-friendly. This will bring new customers to their site.

Accessibility products showcased

A slew of products from various companies were showcased at the exhibition for blind, deaf and physically or visually challenged people. Here are few of them.

Anumaan: The open source predictive text entry system by CDAC Mumbai predicts text sequence based on a context, which could be a partial word or a partial sentence. Developed for people with motor disability, the solution is intended to help augmenting their rate of text comprehension. CDAC Mumbai is also creating a desktop environment for cognitively-impaired people.

Accessibility in Win 7 & MS Office 2010: Both the flagship product of Microsoft bring with them accessibility features. ‘Ease of Access Center’ in Win 7 includes options and programs called on-screen keyboard, speech recognition and personalization that make it easier to see, hear and use your PC easily. Similarly Office 2010 has accessibility features including ”Accessibility Checker, ‘Backstage View’ and ‘Mini Translator’.

AMIS: An open source program from DAISY that can be used to read books using its self-voicing feature. Besides, ‘Save as DAISY add-in’ for MS Word helps users to convert a regular word file in to a DAISY file. This file aid readers with print disabilities.

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Shree-Lipi Braille: A software that converts text composed for sighted persons to Braille text sequence required for visually-impaired people.

BRAILLE-MITRA: This is the Braille Display for visually handicapped and sightless people for reading in Indian Languages Braille. This solution is suited for a Braille library environment in which an entire book in an Indian language can be stored in the display and can be read page-by-page, line-by-line.

Apart from that, Assistive Technology Lab of Shri Vishnu Educational Society of Hyderabad showcased around 14 hardware solutions catering to the needs that span across blind, deaf and visually-impaired people.

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