by April 1, 2010 0 comments

We talk of gender based discrimination, race or age based discrimination, but
have we ever thought of discrimination that is unknowingly meted out to the
differently-abled? Ranging from websites to ATMs, to majority of the public
infrastructure, are inherently discriminatory due to lack of provision of
accessibility for the differently-abled in their design. Added to this, there is
either unavailability of, or ignorance about the appropriate assistive
technologies that could empower them and enable them to be active contributors
to the society, participants in the mainstream activities and translate into
efficient human resource pool. All these end up making things highly
disadvantageous for this 60-70 million of 1.17 billion of India population.

An initiative in this direction was Techshare India 2010, held at New Delhi,
India’s only pan-disability conference and exhibition to promote assistive
technologies for the differently abled. Brought to India by RNIB, UK,
BarrierBreak Technologies and National Centre for Promotion of Employment for
Disabled People (NCPEDP),  this event highlighted the importance of implementing
accessibility standards and also showcased the latest in assistive technologies.
Shilpi Kapoor, MD, BarrierBreak technologies says, “Today technology is playing
a vital role in the lives of people and has become a necessity but unfortunately
it is not equally accessible to all — especially to people with disabilities.
Assistive technology needs to be made available at the formative years which
will empower people with disabilities to join the mainstream”.

Technology acting as an enabler for differently-abled, by
simplifying their lives.

Website Accessibility for all
How accessible is the available web content like, text, Flash, images,
audio, video, word, PDF, etc, to the differently abled? This important aspect of
designing websites keeping in mind the needs of differently-abled, was discussed
at the event. For example does  your Web page allow resizing of text,  textual
description of audio/video clips & multimedia presentations?  If your site uses
CAPTCHA, does it provide an alternative verification mechanism for users who
cannot see or hear? Can your site be used without a mouse, eg, via keyboard
only? The W3C has put forward ‘Web Content Accessibility Guidelines’ which is
aimed at making the web-content equally accessible to the differently abled. In
Feb 2009, Guidelines for Indian Government websites was launched which mandated
Level A compliance of Web Content Accessibility Guidelines. Till date, only the
websites of National Portal of India and Ministry of Social Justice and
empowerment were made accessible to the differently-abled. Also National Policy
on Electronic Accessibility is also around the corner, that is aimed at ensuring
that Information and Communications Technology and Electronics  products and
services are equally accessible for the differently abled too, by promotion of
a  universal design and accessibility standards & guidelines. Now it is for the
public and private sector to take the cue and start making their websites
equally accessible for all. To achieve this, help can be availed  from
organizations like BarrierBreak Technologies that provide services in the area
of accessibility testing, of websites, software applications,  PDF documents,

Avaz: Featuring a USB-based non-contact switch
easily controllable by children with poor motor skills.
Buddy: Claimed to be world’s cheapest, portable
DAISY player enabling navigation on the basis of chapter, para, etc.

Assistive technologies
A slew of assistive technologies that could drastically simplify the lives
of differently-abled gifting them with independence in doing basic day-to-day
things of their lives, were also showcased at the event.

Tactile Explorer : Tactile World’s Tactile Explorer is a PC mouse that
has Braille cells (oscillating pins) integrated into its design, placed where
the user’s fingers naturally rest.  These height changes in the tactile pad can
be tailored to regular letter, Braille symbols, graphics or other
representations. It enables easy usage of computer-based apps like Internet and
programs like MS Office, CRM programs etc, facilitating integration of this
sector into the workforce.

Tactile Explorer: Words and graphics on the PC are
translated into height changes of the pins in the tactile pads of mouse.

Mobile Speak 4: Code Factory’s Mobile Speak screen readers enables
visually challenged to effectively utilize the mobile phones by rendering the
information on the screen as speech output using Text-to-Speech (TTS) technology
or as Braille if the mobile phone is connected to a Braille device with a
refreshable Braille display. The advanced version of Mobile Speak 4  was
displayed, which enables user to interact with a touch-screen phone in three
different ways -use the classic keyboard commands or use easy touch screen
commands or simply move your finger around the screen and the screen reader
tells you what is below your finger tips.

Buddy: An assistive Media Player featuring DAISY Reader with a simple
User Interface optimized with a few levels, having voice assisted menus for
navigation, voice tagged folders and playlists and voice based info button.
DAISY, stands for Digital Accessible Information System, which is a digital
talking book format that contains both sound and text and it makes books
accessible for print-disabled people.

AVAZ :An Augmentative & Alternative Communications Device: This
portable aid was showcased by Inventions Labs for use by people afflicted with
cerebral palsy to augment their communication skills. This device has a rich
GUI, a processor capable of running Linux OS, a purpose-built software and a
USB-based non-contact switch.

IBM India Accessibility Centre showcased following technologies.

Hindi Speech recognition: A real time automatic speech to text
transcription which enables hands-free interaction with computers in Hindi. This
speech recognition software application called – Shrutlekhan-Rajbhasha developed
by Centre for Development of Advanced Computing (C-DAC) and IBM India Research
Laboratory, uses Hindi sound as input and converts it into Devanagari text. Not
only helpful to differently-abled but also to the illiterate or those unfamiliar
with computers. The technology could be also useful in voice-enabling ATM kiosks
and in car navigation systems.

Spoken Web: A voice-based web, parallel to the WWW allowing for
creation, dissemination and access to information through voice driven
interactions. Users can dial into Spoken Web through mobile phones or landline
phones, create their own voice-sites in local languages and browse voice sites
created by others. This enables the illiterate, or those with visual impairment,
to easily access and share information, etc.

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