Evangelist - Bringing accessibility to India
What technology can do to help differently-abled people lead a dignified life
Shilpi Kapoor is the founder director of Net Systems Informatics (I) Pvt Ltd. Section 508 and Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG).
With an industry experience of 15 years she has been the protagonist is bringing about revolutionary changes in the lives of people with disabilities through her innovative ideas and initiatives. She is a truly an accessibility evangelist for India.
Shilpi Kapoor is also the recipient of "NCPEDP - Shell Helen Keller Award 2008" for the role model category - Non-disabled role model supporter of increased employment opportunities for people with disabilities.
Shilpi Kapoor has been instrumental in drafting the National Policy on Electronic Accessibility in association with National Centre for Promotion of Employment for Disabled People . The objective of the policy is to provide persons with disabilities equal access to electronic and information and communication technology and services.
An active member of NASSCOM Disability Advisory Group and a co-convener of the National Task Force for Electronic Accessibility.
Also being a woman entrepreneur, she believes in giving back promoting women entrepeneurship by working with TiE Mumbai and TiE Stree Shakti.
Shilpi Kapoor was working with a US-based firm, where she interacted with her colleague on the internet. For over two years, Shilpi Kapoor had been regularly interacting online from her Mumbai office with her US counterpart, Patrick (name changed).
While they had never met, they had been in constant touch over various projects handled by their networking consultancy firm. But one fateful day, Shilpi discovered that Patrick was a paraplegic, paralysed below the neck. The knowledge changed her life dramatically. "When I realised it was a specialised technology that was helping him work, I decided it was time I did more for the disabled in India" says Shilpi.
Inspired by her colleague, Shilpi, who has a bachelor's degree in Sociology from Xavier's and is a Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer, was determined to make the world more accessible to the disabled. In 1995, Shilpi gave up a lucrative career to start a computer-training center for the disabled in association with an NGO and the Microsoft Bill Gates Foundation at her residence. "Everyone should be able to deliver their best," says the woman who founded the first ever computer training centre in Mumbai for the visually challenged in association with an NGO and the Microsoft Bill Gates Foundation.
But all wasn't easy for Shilpi. Funds were a problem initially. Therefore Net System Informatics, a knowledge management division that offers services like e-learning, technical writing and concept digitalisation, was set up to raise funds in the form of fees.
"We did not want it to be a non-profit entity. There had to be a way to generate funds so that it is self-sustained," she explains. Aavishkar a social entrepreneurial firm invested with them. "That helped us too," she says.
"In India, the disabled are looked upon differently; they usually sit at home. Though this attitude is slowly changing, I want to make things easier for them. They want to travel, work, go out and have normal lives. So we should stop seeing them differently. Empathy is more important than sympathy," she says.
A lot of companies do not consider the disabled as their target audience. "Why is that?" she questions.
Making Everything Accessible
Shilpi wants to make everything 'accessible' for the disabled. That's why she has started a centre that trains them and an organisation that employs them.
"We have all the facilities like lifts specially designed for the disabled and special restrooms for them. We even have supernova screen readers that help the blind browse through websites," she says. These are changes any company can incorporate to make their offices friendly for disabled employees, she adds. Today, 75 per cent of the 55-odd employees at N-System Informatics are disabled!
In 2008, Shilpi along with the Royal National Institute of Blind people (RNIB) UK organized the Techshare India conference, the first ever Accessibility and Disability conference to be organized in India.
The proud recipient of the Shell Helen Keller 2008 award in the Role Model category, Shilpi derives inspiration from the disabled. "Seeing them smile through what we perceive as an issue makes you understand that there is more to life," she says.
Shilpi also heads Barrier Break Technologies a unit of N-systems that tests software and websites to check how disabled-friendly or 'accessible' they are. She now aims to have schools for the disabled with a structured syllabus so that they can deliver like any other employee.