National Policy on Universal Electronic Accessibility

Shruti Sethi, Student of Law, HNLU, Raipur

In order to fulfil its obligations under the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD) which India ratified in 2007, which stood for “State Parties shall take appropriate measures to ensure to persons with disabilities, access on an equal basis with others, to the physical environment, to transportation, to information and communications, including ICTs and systems and to other facilities and services open or provided to the public” India on 3rd October 2013 approved the National Policy on Universal Electronic Accessibility. Many countries who were signatories to UNCRPD have already legislated policies or framework to ensure equality for those with disability. Now India has also joined the league.

This policy recognises the need to eliminate discrimination on the basis of disabilities and will facilitate equal access to electronics and Information and Communication Technologies. The official statement said “The policy will facilitate equal and unhindered access to electronics and ICTs products and services by differently abled persons (both physically and mentally challenged) and to facilitate local language support for the same. This aim of the policy will be achieved through universal access to electronics and ICT products and services to synchronise with barrier free environment and preferably usable without adaptation.”

The following strategies are envisaged for the implementation of the policy:

  • Creating awareness on universal electronics accessibility and universal design.
  • Capacity building and infrastructure development.
  • Setting up of model electronics and ICTs centres for providing training and demonstration    to special educators and physically as well as mentally challenged persons.
    Conducting research and development, use of innovation, ideas, technology etc., whether indigenous or outsourced from abroad.
  • Developing programme and schemes with greater emphasis for differently abled women/ children.
  • Developing procurement guidelines for electronics and ICTs for accessibility and assistive needs.

Currently, most government websites are neither compliant with the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines, which is the international benchmark for accessibility, nor with the guidelines of the National Informatics Centre, according to industry experts. Even the use of Unicode, which is promoted by the government, is not being strictly adhered to.

According to a Centre for Internet and Society (CIS) survey in 2012, almost 25% of 7,800 government websites failed to open and the remaining had accessibility barriers. Sunil Abraham, executive director of CIS believes that “Most companies still don’t have data services—accessibility technology is about textual interfaces to be available over voice calls,”

This policy has been received with open hands by different NGO’s and differently abled people in India. Osama Manzar, founder and director of Digital Empowerment Foundation, an NGO said that due to the introduction of this policy “There will be more of e-gov projects, diversification, and secondly the government will have the onus to even look at how all 100,000 common service centres as access points to make it accessible to differently abled,” It also potentially opens up a huge market for electronics and technology firms to tap into.

However one can always speculate over the various challenges this policy might face due to the political framework in India. “People who are belting out electronic products are not necessarily aware of the challenges that people with disabilities face,” said Rahul Gonsalves, founder of digital products startup Uncommon, who worked on the accessibility policy between 2009 and 2010.

This makes it clear that there will be difficulty in the implementation of the policy as we will have to bring on the ministries and departments on one side, the technology and electronic companies on the other side. We will have to adapt, adopt and create international standards for India so that it is at an equal footing with all the other countries.