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Lest the disabled are left out of the digital world

18 January 2013

Ashok Kumar/OneWorld South Asia

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Despite India’s NIC, a premier ICT arm of the Indian government, issuing strict guidelines in 2009, to make all government websites disabled friendly, most of them are yet to comply with the stipulated norms.

Even after three years following the Prime Minister’s order, some of the top websites of the Indian government still continue to remain inaccessible to persons with disabilities in general and particularly to those with visual impairment, print impairment and hearing impairment.

According to an audit carried out by BarrierBreak Technologies, popular government websites like National Portal of India , Ministry of Tourism, Ministry of Human Resource Development, Department of Administrative Reforms and Public Grievances are still not disabled-friendly.

In the Internet age, when most people take the Web for granted, for various utilities like booking a cinema or a railway ticket, shopping online and filing tax returns, most of such online facilities still remain a challenge for millions of Indians living with disabilities.

The audit of 10 public websites conducted by BarrierBreak Technologies found that not even one of them was truly accessible. The survey aimed at evaluating the level of accessibility of different websites of the Indian government, both at the central and the state level.

Shilpi Kapoor, Managing Director of BarrierBreak Technologies, said that it was sad to note that of the around 7000 Government websites,  most of them do not comply to international standards and even the few who claim to be disabled-friendly, are unfortunately not. “India being an IT hub, it is imperative that our government services are accessible, otherwise people with disabilities will again be left out of the digital world,” she said.

Talking to OneWorld South Asia, Kapoor said, India after ratifying the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD), issued strict guidelines for uploading disabled-friendly websites in the public domain, Kapoor said. “It is unfortunate that the organisations which are responsible for making the government websites are not adequately trained to make portals which are disabled-friendly.  Not just that, they also ignore the international standards for making websites as most of the websites are uploaded without being tested by people with disabilities,” she said.

“Like most of the government buildings which are not disabled-friendly, even the Web has a big barrier for the disabled people,” Kapoor said.

India’s National Information Centre (NIC), issued strict guidelines in 2009, to make all websites in the public domain accessible and disabled-friendly. NIC’s directive came after the issue of websites being inaccessible to the disabled was raised by National Centre for Promotion of Employment for Disabled People (NCPEDP) prompting the Indian Prime Minister to intervene in the matter.

The NIC guidelines known as the Guidelines for Indian Government Websites (GIGW), makes it mandatory for all government websites to  conform to the international accessibility standards, the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) and the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0.

“It is a matter of great concern that even three years later, some of the top Government websites including the national portal of India are not accessible. We have written to the Prime Minister expressing our concern and demanding immediate intervention,” Javed Abidi, honorary Director of NCPEDP said.

“We were quite shocked to notice that the websites were not accessible despite the fact that each of them has put an accessibility statement on their website to mislead visitors,” Abidi rued.

The disabled people use various assistive technologies to browse the Web. However, if the websites are not constructed as per the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG), the assistive technology fails to recognise them and thus makes it difficult for a person with disability to access the website.

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