Showing posts with label accessibility. Show all posts
Showing posts with label accessibility. Show all posts

Saturday, May 11, 2019

In Delhi, making elections accessible for the differently-abled

Ms. Vangmayi Parakala | The Hindu | May 10, 2019 

On voting day on Sunday, Svayam offers mobility solutions to the disabled across the city. 

“The fight is tight. Each vote matters,” says Sminu Jindal, reiterating the messaging we’ve all heard many times almost every election season. But this year, she’s attempted to follow through on this. Her organisation, Svayam, has partnered with NGOs in Delhi’s South, West, and South-West constituencies to ensure that people with mobility problems aren’t hindered from exercising their franchise.

Access for all
“Accessibility isn’t and shouldn’t be a concern only for disability rights activists,” Jindal stresses adding that you needn’t be elderly or disabled to benefit from better thought-out public transportation and spaces: you can be a young athlete who’s injured and on a wheelchair, or you can be in the last trimester of your pregnancy.

Polling is usually held in government buildings like the local municipal school, meaning that by law, these will be accessible spaces, with at least the basic provision of ramps. The problem though, is in getting to these booths.

Through its partner organisations, Svayam has deputed wheelchair-friendly vans that will shuttle people to and from their voting booths, should they need them. In 2017, the organisation had already donated 10 such vans to different NGOs across the country. Of these, four vans have stayed in the city, with Astha, Muskaan, Family of Disabled, and Yes We Can. This year, they’ve added two new vans to this existing entourage, also working with the Election Commission of India to ensure that booths have what the polling body calls “Assured Minimum Facilities.”

Key partnership
After surviving a crash that left her paralysed from the wasit down when she was 11 years old, Jindal has been an active advocate for accessibility. She calls the government Svayam’s “most important partner,” recalling a two-decade-old association through which they’ve partnered and consulted on projects. This includes regular audits, training, and design interventions at various sites.

Starting 2006, they worked with the Archaeological Survey of India to make heritage sites like the Qutub Minar, Fatehpur Sikri and the Taj Mahal friendly for tourists with reduced mobility. Later, they were a part of the core committee set up to harmonise construction standards for the elderly and disabled. Today, they routinely conduct sensitisation and training sessions with staff at the Delhi International Airport Limited.

But it was in June 2018 that the Election Commission of India invited Svayam to be a partner on the National Consultation on Accessible Elections, stating that this “will pave the way for evolving the National Policy document on Inclusion of PwDs [Persons with Disabilities] in Electoral Process.” Svayam specifically made 20 recommendations at this meet, including the need to allow service animals and guide dogs to enter booths.

“The ECI has been very positive this time. The only major challenge is to standardise these guidelines across the country,” says Subhash Chandra Vashishth, Director of Svayam, adding that close to 13 pointers in their recommendations have been accepted and implemented this year.

Source: The Hindu

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Vigyan Bhawan, AIIMS, Feroz Shah Kotla… can’t go anywhere

Bindu Shajan Perappadan,  February 27, 2017 21:42 IST

Two key buildings in Delhi — Vigyan Bhawan and Social Welfare Department (GNCTD) — are inaccessible to people with disabilities.Ironically, the President presents national awards to differently-abled  persons at Vigyan Bhawan and the Social Welfare Department is a two-storey building meant for their welfare, says  physician and disability rights activist Satendra Singh, summing up the state of inclusion of accessibility for the differently-abled in the Capital.Speaking about his own “struggle”, Dr. Singh, who has 70% orthopaedic disability, says: “I have to travel 4 km from GTB Hospital (his office) to Suryanagar to use the post office as the one on the hospital campus is on the first floor and there is no lift. I have to file a case in Disability Court against my Medical Director to make the post office and bank accessible.”The lack of access to essential services remains a source of discrimination and lost opportunities for the disabled, says the doctor.The list of inaccessible buildings in the Capital includes premier hospitals as well.“

Despite my petition, AIIMS Delhi remains inaccessible to people with disabilities. The New Delhi railway station doesn’t have a lift connecting to the platforms and escalators are not disabled-friendly. Though there are low-floor buses, have you ever seen a wheelchair-user travelling in them,’’ he asks. Most irritating, he says, is the fact that entertainment is beyond the reach of the disabled. “Neither cinema halls nor Firoz Shah Kotla is accessible,’’ he says. 

Inaccessibility is not restricted to wheelchair-users only, says disability rights lawyer and access consultant Subhash Chandra Vashishth. According to him, to realise the mandate of inclusive and accessible public infrastructure, all public spaces need to be conceived, designed and developed keeping diversity of users in mind.

Dr. G.N. Karna, a research officer and honorary president of the Society for Disability and Rehabilitation Studies, says there is a need to improve the monitoring of implementation of various policies, including the yet-to-be notified Rights of Persons with Disabilities Bill, 2016.

Source: The Hindu 

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Design & Disability - How India is catching up

Design and disability

August 22, 2014  


Accessible cabs for the disabled, talking ATMs, Braille and audio signage, camera mouse... a lot seems to be happening in the field of Universal Design in India lately.

It was a family trip to America in the late ’90s that changed the outlook — and therefore the business — of G. Gopala Krishna. Bangalore-based GGK, a materials engineer, had been making signage for use in institutes, hotels, hospitals, airports and public places till then. “Ladies restroom here, lift this way….the kind you usually come across in such places.”

After he returned home, he thought about what he had seen in public places across America. “Alongside the usual signage, there are audio and Braille signages. That set me thinking, why don’t we have any? How do our differently abled people navigate without them? What does our law say,” relates GGK. Realising that we do have a law that talks about barrier-free environment and access to people with disabilities, also the reality that there is hardly any maker of such signage in India, GGK thought of crafting some. After a lot of research, also some more travel to the U.S., he came up with a material and a technique to craft Braille signage. And today, GGK’s company, Braille Signs India-USA, not only produces Braille signage for the Indian market but for countries across the world.

“I realised, a lot of science is involved in making such signage, unlike the usual ones I have been making. The material used in the U.S. has been patented by a company there, so I couldn’t have used it. I thought a lot and zeroed in on a kind of hard plastic. It is long lasting because it is much more rugged and has more resistance to vibration, also vandalism. The best part is, it is less expensive than what is available in America. So I have got an advantage,” says a smiling GGK, a winner of this year’s NCPEDP-Mphasis Universal Design Award, given away in New Delhi every August 14.

If the winners of this pioneering annual award given to individuals and companies since 2010 by Delhi-based NCPEDP alone are taken cognisance of, there are now quite a few instances of home-grown accessible design. Accessible cabs for the disabled, talking ATMs, barrier-free educational institutes, and assistive technology such as hand-gesture controlled remote, audio modules for mobile phones, etc. are all initiatives people and companies have been recognised for. Seems like a lot is happening in the field of Universal Design in the country lately. Particularly heartening when one recalls a conversation with NCPEDP founder and disability rights activist Javed Abidi in 2010 about how difficult was the job for his organisation to fill names of nominees for the three categories of the award.

Going back to Abidi to understand the shift provides a reality check of the situation. “The scenario hasn’t changed much. As heartbreaking as it is, there is not much happening in the area of accessibility or barrier-free design in India. That is not to say that nothing is happening, but not enough. The Universal Design Awards that we give every year, in that sense, is a good wake up call. I sincerely hope that things change and soon,” he says.

More often than not, the trend in India has been that individuals with disability or those with people in their family and friends circle with such needs think up innovative, barrier-free ideas.

“That is partly true, but not always. We have individuals like Shilpi Kapoor, G. Gopalakrishna, Rama Chari, Sakshi Broota and many others who do not have anything to do with disability, except their commitment and passion for the cause. Organisations and corporates too deserve their share of credit. Whatever Wipro or Mphasis or Capgemini or Cisco are doing, is noteworthy and laudable. When Vidhya Ramasubban launched Kickstart Cabs to ensure accessible transport in Bangalore, or when CHILDLINE India Foundation decides that all their awareness material should be in accessible formats so that the blind and the deaf can benefit, that needs to be celebrated,” points out Abidi.

Shilpi Kapoor, through her company BarrierBreak, has been organising Techshare India since 2008 on the lines of what the Royal National Institute for the Blind does in the U.K. For the first time, Techshare India has brought under one roof government officials, corporates, NGOs, people with disabilities and education providers with product companies.

Prashant Madhukar Naik of Maharashtra, a successful campaigner for talking ATMs in India, too feels “things are certainly changing” but hopes the Indian design industry becomes more aware and starts working closely with NGOs to understand the needs better. “Architects particularly need to do so to make the living space accessible for all,” he says. Talking about innovative ideas, he mentions “coming across a person who has designed a camera mouse for the computer.” IIT and IIM students have concentrated on products based on Universal Design, such as the recent Smart Cane, he notes, but the problem is how to market these products. The expansion of Techshare into this sector will hopefully help formalise the market.

About his own work, this Union Bank of India employee, also one of this year’s Universal Design Awards winners, adds with a tinge of pride, “A lot of hard work went into designing and making talking ATMs possible in India. Today, we have about 7000 such ATMs across the country.” Naik, suffering from low vision and albinism, also runs a first-of-its-kind website, a locator for talking ATMs in India.

To Naik also goes the credit of designing assistive devices for Maharashtra Government employees with low vision. “I was a part of a committee set up by the Mumbai High Court to provide assistive devices to blind employees and those with low vision working with the Government of Maharashtra. Today, such employees can ask for devices like magnifiers, etc. within the budget limit of Rs.50,000.”

Yet another name in the field of accessible design in India, Arun C.Rao, says he hopes to see a more proactive design industry to seriously bring about the concept of Universal Design in India. Rao is credited with designing a series of Indian sign language dictionaries and the country’s first website that teaches sign language.

GGK feels India’s huge construction industry today needs to be more open to the idea of Universal Design, a concept that has caught on pretty steadily in the West. “They are just not serious about making their projects barrier-free, nor is our government. This is despite having a law. The majority of them don’t follow these guidelines. Therefore, though so many high tech buildings and apartments are being made in India, the demand for my signage is little. I export more,” he says. However, between 2013 and 14, he has sold 5000 accessible signs in India alone. All enthusiastic about exploring further in his field, GGK has begun designing audio signage too. “Also those which glow in the dark, for low vision users. Then, I have embossed Braille instructions on door knobs, etc.” Interestingly, he has also designed a multi-metre to install in old lifts for audio signage.

“According to law, you can’t have lifts without audio signage in India anymore. So the new lifts come with audio instructions, but cities like Mumbai and Delhi have many old lifts in offices and apartment buildings. My multi-metre is for such lifts without needing to change them,” he says. He has recently installed his multi-metre in a Bangalore bank complex and has put up one in an old apartment building in his city on a trial basis. He, however, ends the conversation with yet another frustrating point, “I have approached quite a few old apartments but most are not open to the idea. They can’t seem to see the point. I don’t know why we are like that.”

Good question, why are we like that, why are we so majoritarian in our approach?

Talking ATMs

India today has nearly 7000 talking ATMs placed across the country. “From States like Tripura to Meghalaya to Pondicherry to U.P. to Goa to our big metros, you will find talking ATMs everywhere today,” says Prashant Madhukar Naik, a campaigner for this facility since 2009. Naik explains how the machine works without compromising on safety and security of the customer. “You have to wear a headphone which provides audible instructions to a user. It ensures that all the information you say, like your PIN number, etc. remains confidential.”

Naik was a part of the first ever talking ATM project taken up by an Indian bank — his employer, the Union Bank of India, in 2012. It began with Vastrapur in Ahmedabad, Gujarat. Users could easily download instruction manuals in Braille and DAISY formats from the bank website. This set a benchmark for the Indian banking sector, and the State Bank of India, just four months later, too launched its first talking ATM in New Delhi.

Source: The Hindu

Monday, March 4, 2013

Disability Sector not happy with the Railway Budget

Disability Rights is off the rails

Javed Abidi

Like all other years, this year’s Railway budget did not bring any cheer for India’s 70-100 million people with disabilities, a large number of whom depend on the Railways for their basic mobility needs.

The only difference was that for the first time, the new Railway Minister talked about the substantive issue of accessibility at the stations and in the coaches. However, the discrimination and indignity faced by millions of persons with disabilities trying to use the Railways cannot be addressed by mere pious statements of good intent. The barriers are deep-rooted and systemic.

Let’s try and understand what it means for the average person with disability to travel with the Railways.
To begin with, you can’t buy the tickets online. The website is not accessible as it does not conform to web content accessibility guidelines despite a Government of India policy mandating so. And even if you are not print-impaired, you ‘have to’ physically go to the booking counter with your disability certificate in hand to avail yourself of the discount and get a prized seat in that one single accessible coach per train.
The booking counters are not accessible and that one ‘accessible’ counter for ‘special’ and ‘differently-abled’ people (pun intended) is not manned most of the time.

To top it, by the government’s own admission, more than 50 per cent of the people with disabilities actually don’t have a disability certificate.

Even if you are lucky to have a disability certificate, you are forced to purchase two tickets and to travel with an ‘attendant,’ never mind if you are totally independent and can actually travel alone.


To get to the coach is another huge struggle. The way to the platforms is not at all accessible. India is still stuck with the concept of foot over-bridges with a thousand steep steps, and no ramps or lifts. You are therefore left with no choice but to use the same path as the luggage carts — littered with potholes and garbage.
The concept of ‘accessibility’ for the Railways has remained limited to one accessible toilet for the entire station. God help you if you urgently need to use one but you are on Platform No. 2 and the ‘disabled-friendly’ toilet happens to be at the extreme end of the station, beyond Platform No. 7.

It is the same story with all other public facilities such as the drinking water taps, the public telephone booths, and so on.

The worst aspect of the Railways in the modern, 21st century India is the segregated coach for people with disabilities. This ‘special’ coach for ‘differently-abled’ people is attached now to almost every long-distance train either at the beginning, immediately after the engine, or towards the very end, right next to the guard. A person with disability doesn’t have the same choice as other passengers because all the other coaches are not accessible.

We all know the story of Mahatma Gandhi having been thrown off a first-class carriage in South Africa because of the colour of his skin. I say Gandhiji was lucky. After all, he did manage to get into the coach. I, as a wheelchair user, can’t even get inside.

What is needed is a holistic, time-bound action plan with a generous resource allocation. We are not asking for any miracles but there should be a serious start somewhere. I offer a simple three-point agenda to our new Railways Minister: Make the Railways website accessible. Make all A1 category stations fully accessible (stations are categorised by passenger traffic). Make at least one coach accessible in every class of every train. Fix a practical time frame, allocate a decent budget and for God’s sake, then just do it!

(Javed Abidi is a very disgruntled disabled Indian citizen. He has been a wheelchair user for the last 33 years and yet, is not 'wheelchair-bound'. He keeps travelling around the world as the Global Chair of Disabled People's International (DPI). He is neither ‘invalid’ nor ‘special.’ And, he certainly is not ‘differently’ abled. He travels by train all the time, but only in America and in Europe. At home, in modern India, he cannot. He cannot even get inside them but he wants to. Hence, this piece, in the hope that things will change. He is Convener, Disabled Rights Group (DRG) and Chairperson, DPI.)

Source: The Hindu

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Making Mounuments accessible to Visually Impaired

Dear Colleagues,

A group of students at the School of Planning and Architecture (SPA) along with NGO Saksham, have come up with 12 miniature models of monuments from across the world to help blind children touch and try and understand for themselves by touching and feeling what the monuments looks like.  Till now,  a mere description of what a monument looks like was the closest they could come to seeing the real thing.

The students and design workshop faculty at SPA undertook the project to develop to-scale architectural models of well-known monuments and structures from around the world for the visually-impaired children at Saksham. The idea was floated by the NGO and quickly taken up by Vikrant Sharma, a guest faculty at the school.

"I heard about the idea that Saksham had and spoke to the first year students of the Workshop and Design class at SPA about it. It is a process that will benefit the visually-impaired children as well as the students as it will make them more socially aware and compassionate citizens," said Sharma.

The 70 students have worked in groups for 6 weeks and come up with 12 miniatures that go on display on Saturday at the school.

"If we had to indicate a water body, students have used wet sponge to recreate the effect since this project is more about the feel. Durability has also been kept in mind and the students have used materials such as plastic, plaster of Paris, PVC pipes and paints to recreate different textures," Sharma added.

According to members at Saksham, learning about heritage structures is very important for visually-impaired students.

"A visit to a museum, whether of art, local history or technology, or to a site of historical importance, is just as worthwhile for the blind and partially sighted as it is for visitors without visual impairments. They learn about their culture and past history," said Rumy Seth, member, Saksham.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Barrier Free Buildings- a distant dream- State Governments show little interest in Central Assistance Scheme

Dear Colleagues,

In October 2010,  Govt. of India invited proposals from States to give central assistance to provide barrier free environment in important State Government buildings in the State Secretariat, Collectorates, Main Hospitals, Universities and other important Government offices to ensure that these are accessible to the Persons with Disabilities (PwDs) under the ‘Scheme for Implementation of PwD Act, 1995 (SIPDA),’ after effecting a major increase in the annual allocation (Rs 15 crore-Rs 20 crore to Rs 100 crore) this year.

While there were apprehension put forward by the activists that how this was going to be implemented in absence of abysmal number of access auditors in the country both for infrastructural access and web-access. Even after almost one and half year, this scheme  has found very few takers. This indicates two factors – which continue this vicious circle of inaccessibility. First is the lip service by the Government – both at the centre and the states- second is the “We can not do much” attitude of Persons with Disabilities, their organisations, DPOs/ NGOs and parent’s organisation.

We have found a similar lukewarm response to an earlier scheme for promotion of employment by which the government offered to pay a certain sum for Provident Fund contribution for the employee with disabilities.

Disability is not a priority area for the government – both at centre as well as at States, since they are grappling with much more serious subjects (seriousness is judged from the perspective of how adversely the segment may affect the voting patterns in the elections!). Therefore, after the lip service in form of schemes, nothing much comes out in absence of concerted effort on the part of NGOs/ Disabled Persons Organisations and Confederations. I remember similar story appearing in the Times of India on 07 November 2010 titled Challenge for the disabled when the new Disability Commissioner took over. However, not much has happened since then.

Barrier Free environment is your fundamental right for it is essential to enjoy “Right to Life” as enshrined in the Constitution of India and eloquently spelt out by the Hon’ble Supreme Court of India in its various path-breaking judgements.

Therefore, it is high time that Confederations, NGOs, DPOs  who claim to work with and for persons with disabilities in India and as well as disabled people in this country to raise voice through different mediums – representations, dharnas, sit-ins outside the Minister’s office/residences, petitions in the Disability Commissioner’s court, Writ petitions in the High Courts, and every possible way which is democratic and lawful. I am sorry to say, without this, we will have similar news stories every six months explaining the pathetic conditions of inaccessible pedestrian pathways and inaccessible public spaces and transportation systems.

Subhash Chandra Vashishth
Advocate- D isability Rights

Here is this story from Times of India, Pune Edition dated 01st March 2012:

Barrier-free buildings a distant dream for disabled

PUNE: Makrand Vaidya, who walks with the help of crutches, feels intimidated when he has to visit government offices in the city, because of their limiting environment.

“I have visited so many government offices here and none are disabled-friendly. My wife, who is on a wheel-chair, feels the same. My condition is such that I cannot use the crutches for an extended period of time. So, when government offices do not have ramps or a lift, I have to climb up a flight of stairs by sitting on every step to rest before moving forward. Situations like that not only drain my energy, but also my confidence,” said Vaidya.

A visually-impaired student, who declined to be named, said, “There aren’t any staff to guide the people with disabilities (PwDs) who visit government offices. More often than not, staff at government offices tend to misguide you by giving you wrong directions and partial information. Inquiry booths for PwDs at all government offices are indispensible. Lack of such facilities only delay our errands further.”

The fact that the Pune Disability Commissioner’s office has not received adequate number of applications from the state government departments seeking grants to make their offices barrier-free, shows the disinterest in making public buildings disabled-friendly.
The Union government had sought proposals for Rs 12 crore from the states, to make required changes in the office premises of state departments and make them better accessible to physically-challenged people.

Though the deadline to send the applications is already over, the Disability Commissioner’s office here has received applications seeking funds to the tune of just Rs 8.5 crore so far. What’s more, the Pune divisional commissioner’s office and the Pune Zilla Parishad, which were specially asked to send their requirements for grants under the scheme, are yet to respond.

Proposals from states have been invited by the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment under the ‘Scheme for Implementation of PwD Act, 1995 (SIPDA),’ after effecting a major increase in the annual allocation (Rs 15 crore-Rs 20 crore to Rs 100 crore) this year.
Officials from the disability commissioner’s office had made a presentation to various state government departments, including Pune Zilla Parishad and the divisional commissioner’s office, to encourage them to submit proposals for making provisions for barrier-free environment in their respective buildings.

“However, no proposal has been received from the zilla parishad and the divisional commissioner’s office, and we are still seeking to fulfill the shortfall of Rs 3.5 crore,” said an official from the Disability Commissioner’s office.

The UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (PwDs), 2008, to which India is a signatory, calls for making buildings, work places, facilities including information, communication and other services, etc, accessible to PwDs on an equal basis. In addition, section 46 of Persons with Disabilities (Equal Opportunities, Protection of Rights and Full Participation) Act, 1995, makes implementation of barrier-free environment for PwDs everywhere, especially government buildings.

The official said, “However, in spite of the legislation, people are unaware of what exactly is a barrier-free environment. Only a ramp and a toilet on the ground floor do not amount to the structure being barrier-free. Thus, central assistance on significant scale under the SIPDA is provided to states to encourage them to move in the direction of making their buildings totally barrier-free.”

He said the disability commissioner’s office authorities have focused on providing at least four features in the government buildings that have hitherto submitted applications. “A ramp, toilets on all the floors for the disabled, signage boards for the hearing-impaired and a lift (for buildings where ramp does not go beyond two floors) are barrier-free features which will have to be added in the buildings mandatorily,” he said.

The official said the disability commissioner’s office had asked the state health department for proposals from eight civil hospitals from eight regions of the state. “We, however, have not received any applications from the health department,” said the official.

The disability commissioners’ office had also asked the higher education department to send proposals to make their websites accessible to PwDs and institutions environment barrier-free. However, only five universities and 11 directorate offices from the state have sent proposals within the time limit.

The official further added that Amravati district collector, Mumbai university and divisional commissioner, Mumbai, have also not sent applications. “Mahatma Phule Krishi Vidyapeeth, Rahuri, has given a proposal to the tune of Rs 3 crore, Rs 76 lakh for making four of its buildings barrier-free. Others who have sent the proposals include North Maharashtra University, Jalgaon, SNDT University, Mumbai, and Nagpur Veterinary College,” the official said.

Dananjay Bhole, co-ordinator, Blind Students Learning Centre, University of Pune (UoP), said, “I have been working at the UoP for the last couple of years and was also a student earlier. For me, mobility on the campus has not been a hindrance because I have been here for some time now. But, initially, I faced several problems here since there wasn't any cell to help physically challenged people. With increasing awareness UoP has taken initiatives to make its environment more disabled-friendly. The new buildings on the campus can be easily accessed by physically challenged people. Access to old buildings is difficult for wheelchair users as there are no inclined ramps installed at the entrance to the buildings.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Lack of Accessible Accommodation at Delhi University- a major discouragement for students with disabilities


Barrier Free Accommodation for students with disabilities in Delhi has been an issue of concern for many years now. However, there has been no organised effort from the Government of Delhi on this front. 

In the name of accommodation, several private hostels in cramped places have come up in and around the Delhi University campus to lure disabled students too, however, the facilities are far from being satisfactory.  The incidence of rape with a blind girl living in a similar hostel by the hostel owner two years ago is an example of the pathetic and unsafe situations,  that students with disabilities have to live. 

There are more than 1600 seats reserved for students with disabilities in various courses/colleges under Delhi University, however this year not even 450 were filled up. The lack of barrier free accommodation is a major discouragement and the precious seats in the University are going vacant which is a growing concern among activists. 

Here is a recent news from Indian Express that underlines the above issue and needs to be solved on an urgent basis.


SC Vashishth

Physically handicapped students worst affected (to read from source click on the weblink)

Express News Service, Delhi

Among those waiting for the new under-graduate girls’ hostel to open are hundreds of physically handicapped students.
Accommodation close to their college is an important factor for physically handicapped students, and many choose against joining DU for the lack hostels.
Incidentally, DU is trying hard to encourage physically handicapped candidates to apply for admission under its reserved category. The University reserves 1,600 under-graduate seats under this category.
According to Dr Nisha Singh of DU Equal Opportunity Cell (EOC), lack of affordable accommodation is a major hurdle that discourages disabled students, especially girls from taking up admission. “The fees in most college hostels is very high, and only a few, like Ramjas college, provide concession. We would like the new hostel to be made available soon and request the University to reserve more seats for disabled students,” she said.

During admissions this year, of the 461 students who registered for admission under the PH quota in the first list of admissions, only 135 were girls.

Officials who counsel disabled students during admissions had cited lack of safe and easily accessible accommodation for girls as a major reason for the skewed gender ratio.
Out of nearly 600 students who took admission under the PH quota when admissions closed this year, only about half managed to find accommodation in college hostels.
Others were forced to depend on hostels run by the government or agencies associated to it.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Can the Private Schools really become Disabled friendly without Government Support ?

Dear Friends,

I am surprised at the recent move of Directorate of Education, Delhi directing the private schools to make their school buildings accessible- though without any time frame. It is surely to pass the buck emanating from not only the recent Right to Free and Compulsory Education Act but also the Persons with Disabilities (Equal Opportunities, Protection of Rights and Full Participation) Act 1995 by which they are bound.

In the present scenario, making all existing private schools in Delhi accessible is next to impossible by such directives alone. Has the department of education bothered to go and check the limitations under which the private schools function? These shops came up only because the Education Department failed its mandate. It did not provide quality education and hence the parents, including those of children with disabilities looked at private options. Private options, however, charitable they may be, will be restricted by the funds and infrastructure. Now whether it is private mainstream schools or private special schools, money is an important motive, more so for the former kind of schools if not for NGO run (not for profit) special schools.

These schools run in small plots of lands in narrow lanes with hardly any space for play grounds or field work or for other school activities. Most often, these schools are multi-floor with space & economic constraints to make a ramp or construct a lift. Since profit is the one of the chief considerations besides social service in these private schools, every penny invested in retrofitting must give them some benefit else it is a burden on them. You can't expect them to do things in charity for 3% of population for they are not governed by the social justice mandate. When the Government who are governed by the social justice mandate fails to provide accessible and disabled friendly school infrastructure with quality education, how can we expect the same from the small private initiatives to do that extra bit from their pockets?

This precisely means, unless Education department comes up with some financial & Technical support to make the infrastructure accessible, majority of private schools cannot implement their directive. This is a fact which even the department knows. That is why this lip service has been done by merely issuing a directive without doing proper feasibility study before planning. The best answer to this would be creation of a fund by which schools are supported both financially and technically to ensure that the schools are friendlier to children with diversity.

Therefore, the right approach should be that either Education department gives the required support to the schools that do not have sufficient means to implement the access mandate or withdraws such a directive which cannot be implemented in most of the private schools. Passing the buck will not ensure the rights of free & compulsory education for children with disabilities in private schools but will only add to the list of defaulters. 

Its better the Directorate of Education rectifies the biggest mistake of their planning if they really want to ensure every school accessible; else this will remain a utopia - both for them as well as to the children with disabilities intending to study in these private schools.

Subhash Chandra Vashishth

Delhi schools told to make premises more disabled-friendly, activists unimpressed
(Click here to read the news from source

Fri, Aug 13 06:00 AM
If all goes according to plan and Delhi schools pay heed to orders of the Directorate of Education (DoE), schools across the Capital may soon be disabled friendly.

The DoE has directed all recognised unaided schools to remove all architectural barriers that pose a hindrance to movement of the disabled from the school premises. It, however, has not set a timeframe or deadline, raising concerns that this is "just another cosmetic measure".

The directive to schools comes in the wake of the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education (RTE) Act which has provisions for the children with disabilities. The DoE has asked schools to remove any architectural barriers "to facilitate the movement of disabled (students or staff) persons".

"This was necessary under the provisions of the Persons with Disability Act, 1995," said an Education department official.

The department has also asked the schools to make provisions for ramps and modified toilets in their school premises. It has, in fact, written to all Deputy Directors of Education (DDEs) that "these two points may be included in the pro forma for seeking recognition from the department and also in the pro forma of inspection of schools".

Javed Abidi, Director National Centre for Promotion of Employment for Disabled People (NCPEDP), said, "I know they have issued a directive to schools. Of course it is too little, too late. But the question is 'are they serious?'"

For affiliation to the Central Board of School Education (CBSE), one of the prerequisites is that the school should be disabled friendly.

But Abidi points out, "They should have given a reasonable timeframe to schools so that they can build ramps or modify toilets. This is all cosmetic. They should tell schools that they would be derecognised if they don't fall in line. I urge them to crack the whip." He says the Supreme Court is monitoring these cases.

Other experts too, were sceptical. Ashok Agarwal, lawyer and activist with Social Jurist, said, "This is just a PR activity. They are not serious." D K Bedi, principal of Apeejay School, Pitampura, said, "This is a welcome step."

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Accessibility for all could be a future business model for some

Hi Friends,
Reproducing a beautiful article from Live Mint.Com detailing on the business sense of accessibility. Click on the title to read it from source site. Here it goes.

Accessibility for all could be a future business model for some : Akshai Jain

‘Blinkered mindsets’ could be preventing many from spotting the opportunities in making technology accessible

New Delhi: George Abraham is an angry man. “Why is it,” he asks rhetorically, “that I can’t issue a cheque without having it countersigned by another person? Or buy a railway ticket without wasting hours at a station?”

The brunt of his rage, however, is reserved for the cricket coverage of television channels. Very often, he says, at the end of an innings commentators sign off leaving the final score to be displayed on screen. While that works fine for everyone else, it prematurely ends the game for him, because Abraham is legally blind. But as a cricket enthusiast, bowler and the chairman of the Association for Cricket for the Blind in India, he’s very interested in knowing the score that he can’t see. “The only reason I haven’t smashed the television so far,” he seethes, “is because I own it.”

Similar sentiments are repeated across India’s disabled community. At a time when information technology and communications systems are becoming more sophisticated, and electronic devices are proliferating, this 60-million-strong population finds itself increasingly isolated.

In India, few of the new systems in the market have accessibility features that allow the visually, hearing or motor disabled to use them. “Technologies of the 1980s and 1990s like DOS (disk operating system)-based systems were character based,” says Kiran Kaja of the UK-based Royal National Institute of Blind People. “It was easy to provide accessibility in them, but current systems are very different.”

Touchscreen interfaces come without voice recognition technologies that the blind need; mobile phones are shrinking in size, making it difficult for people with motor disabilities to use them; remote controls have no standardization, requiring disabled users to familiarize themselves with each anew; and most Indian websites aren’t designed to work with screen reading software. As a result, while life has become simpler for the “normal” population, the disabled find themselves facing new obstacles.

The problem, according to Javed Abidi, one of the country’s best-known disability activists, is neither technological nor financial but, “lies in a lack of awareness and in blinkered mindsets”. Companies that sell products with built-in accessibility features abroad don’t market them here. “In countries like the US,” he says, “there are laws, section 508 for example, that lay down accessibility standards. We need something similar here.”

That already seems to be happening. In 2009, the National Informatics Centre came out with the Guidelines for Indian Government Websites that require all 6,000 or so government websites to adhere to strict accessibility guidelines. These sites now need to have alternative text for all images, icons where possible and need to limit the use of embedded applications that don’t allow screen reader access, etc.

A number of government websites are now completely accessible. “Change has been slower coming to corporate sites,” says Shilpi Kapoor of BarrierBreak Technologies, a Mumbai-based accessibility consulting firm, “but the guidelines have been a great first step towards creating awareness”.

A National Policy on Universal Electronic Accessibility is also on the drawing board. The ministry of social justice and empowerment, department of information technology, companies such as Microsoft Corp. and disability experts like Abidi and Kapoor have been involved in drafting it. Industry organizations such as Confederation of Indian Industry and Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry provided suggestions. The policy, which will be released in a few months, lays down accessibility standards for information and communication technologies and electronics.

The drafting committee has decided to keep the policy recommendatory. “It’s a strategic decision,” says Abidi. The idea, at least initially, is to create basic standards and make manufacturers aware of them. Implementing these standards is going to involve costs of redesigning and standardizing products, a process that Abidi says is “complicated; and the procedures for which are best evolved gradually”.

The advocacy of the last few years has in the meantime already started paying off. A handful of companies have realized the market potential of accessibility and they’re reworking their technologies and business models. They acknowledge that the returns on their investments are not going to materialize anytime soon, but see their efforts as a long-term investment in broadening their markets.

Anil U. Joshi, programme director of IBM Corp.’s India human ability and accessibility group, is almost evangelical about the opportunities the new sector holds. “It’s a myth,” he says, “that accessibility is a niche or low-income market.” Neither does he believe that accessibility is only about the disabled. “Not knowing a language is a disability,” he points out. “The elderly and those with low literacy also suffer from disabilities similar to those of the disabled.”

Disabilities, Joshi believes, are graded. Instead of viewing accessibility features as a corporate social responsibility add-on to their products, companies need to start looking at their products as catering to various degrees of ability. “There’s a great demand out there for more accessible products,” he says.

IBM India has been working on a series of enhanced accessibility products over the last few years, most of which serve multiple purposes. Their Hindi speech recognition technology can be used for educating people with disabilities, and finds application in making ATMs more accessible. It’s currently also been licensed to the Centre for Development of Advanced Computing for transcribing parliamentary speeches.
The spoken Web is an effort to create the voice equivalent of the Internet. It consists of a series of voice sites that are created by users over a telephone. These sites can be linked to each other, indexed and searched. People with visual disabilities or low levels of literacy can easily create and browse these sites. The project has been tested in a few villages in Gujarat and Andhra Pradesh, where it’s been immensely successful.

A similar realization is taking place at Yahoo India, where a five-member accessibility team has been working to change the “developer’s mindset”. “Building accessible sites is about going back to the basics,” says Subramanyam Murali, content engineer at the company. “It’s about building functionalities first and then adding the enhancements.”

The separation of basic functionality and enhancements has not only made their sites more dynamic, but has “significantly” reduced the bandwidth they require.

“It does take an additional 10% effort to design an accessible site,” states Murali, “but it pays off in the long term”.

The engineers at Yahoo have also introduced captioning for video on their site, made sure that colour-coded elements on the site are accompanied by text, and created user interface components that comply with the accessible rich Internet applications standards of the World Wide Web Consortium. According to Murali, most Yahoo sites are now screen reader friendly. “Working with assistive technologies has become cool,” he says, smiling.

Changes have also made their way to banks and ATM manufacturers, although with a nudge from the Reserve Bank of India, which recently put out a guideline that requires 30% of new ATMs to be accessible. Rakesh Aulaya, spokesperson for NCR Corp., which manufactures ATMs with audio start-up and guide menus, Braille keypads and voice recognition technologies, says that the roll-out so far has been small since banks need to upgrade their software to use these ATMs. But he expects a significant increase in demand over the next few years. “For banks the costs involved are small,” he says, “but the benefits will be high.”

Manufacturers associations have supported the introduction of accessibility guidelines, even though they’re unsure about its affordability. “The costs (and returns) of accessibility will vary widely from industry to industry,” says Vinnie Mehta, executive director of the Manufacturers Association for Information Technology. “Larger companies may not require subsidies, but for others government subsidies will be important.”

It will be a while before electronic accessibility becomes common, but Abraham agrees that things are improving. Cricket coverage might not have changed, but television channels such as Star Movies and Zee Studio have started subtitling some of their films, and My Name is Khan has become the first Bollywood film to be released with Hindi audio descriptions for the visually challenged.