Nasscom’s disabled-friendly initiative gets ecstatic welcome

CHENNAI: Earlier this week, through the contemporary media for newsbreaks, @javed_abidi tweeted about the constitution of Nasscom’s disability advisory group (DAG).

Mr. Abidi, a vociferous campaigner for the rights of the disabled in the country, could scarcely contain his excitement. “It is phenomenal,” he said later, over telephone. “In fact, I think the word should be ‘historic’. We have been lobbying with the Nasscom for more than one-and-a-half years now. It is good to see they have finally understood the issue of disability and its connect with IT.”

The disability sector is ecstatic with the DAG finally put in place. It is headed by Pradeep Gupta of Cyber Media, who has been sensitive to the requirements of the disabled. Ten members from the disability and IT sectors and a couple of representatives from the Nasscom Foundation, including Som Mittal, are part of the DAG. They are scheduled to meet on Monday.

In using technology, there are a number of issues disabled users face which others cannot even perceive. Text size, contrast and audio-video formats, and assistive devices are considerations. “The group’s agenda is to focus on accessibility, employability and assistive technologies,” said Nasscom Foundation CEO Rufina Fernandes.

The aim is also to leverage the members’ strengths to translate policy into tangible action. “We already have members who, as part of the industry, have been at the forefront of disabled-friendly initiatives,” Ms. Fernandes said. Besides more access, both to websites and technology, the broader goals of advocacy and imparting skills that facilitate employability will be pursued.

Easy websites

Web Content Access Guidelines (WCAG) were evolved to make the worldwide web more accessible to all. Working on the principle, as Tim Berners-Lee, Director, World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) and inventor of the WWW, put it: “The power of the web is in its universality. Access by every one regardless of disability is an essential aspect.”

The WCAG drew up the initial guidelines for site developers and web designers that would take care of the needs of older users and people with disability. The guidelines focus on aspects that will make websites easy for all, not merely special groups, to access. WCAG 1.0 claims that following the guidelines “will also make Web content more available to all users, whatever user agent they use [e.g., desktop browser, voice browser, mobile phone and automobile-based personal computer] or constraints they may be operating under [noisy surroundings, under or over-illuminated rooms, in a hands-free environment]. Following these guidelines will also help people find information on the Web more quickly.”

In December 2008, W3C announced a new set of standards, WCAG 2.0. It is more broadly applicable to different technologies and has clearer criteria, and tools available to tell if your design fits the mould. Apart from increasing the font size, providing higher contrasts and incorporating text into voice components on any site, there is the need to develop hardware (such as special keyboards) and software with local customisation to benefit a large number of disabled users and facilitate their employability.

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