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First Meeting of the Core Group on Communication and Information Technology

Posted by Nirmita Narasimhan at Mar 06, 2009 10:25 AM |
This is a report on the first meeting of the Core Group on Communication and Information Technology, which was held in New Delhi on 5 March 2009.

Following talks with various organisations on collaborating to bring about a policy change for electronic accessibility, the National Centre for Promotion and Employment of Disabled Persons (NCPEDP) constituted a core group on Communication and Information Technology. The first meeting of this group was held in New Delhi on 5 March 2009, between 10.00 am and 1.00 pm.  The members of the group include:

Mr. Dipendra Manocha
Mr. Nilesh Singit
Mr. Rahul Gonsalves
Dr. Sam Taraporevala
Mr. Sunil Abraham
Mr. Vijay Krishnamani
Mr. Zamir Dhale

The meeting was convened by Mr. Javed Abidi and co-convened by Ms. Shilpi Kapoor. 
The meeting began with a round of introductions and preliminary remarks by all the members. This was followed by a discussion around the issue of web accessibility. Mr. Abidi reaffirmed that the government had issued guidelines making it mandatory for all government web sites to conform to WCAG standards 2.0. The announcement had been made at the E-governance forum meeting at Goa on 12 February. Following this announcement, the first accessible portal of the Government of India,, had been launched on 17 February.  The group felt that in the light of this development, there was no longer a need to take this up as a major issue with the government and it could actively identify and pursue other areas of intervention.

The core group decided that it was best to list issues affecting the disabled in all spheres in great detail and later decide on how best to take these issues up with different government departments. Other than electronic accessibility, there are many areas where accessibility could be improved for persons with disabilities. Mr. Dipendra Manocha and Dr. Sam Taraporevala voiced their concern about the need for amending copyright laws and for having a specific policy governing content from publishers. Dr. Taraporevala explained that there were two ways in which content could be made accessible for the visually challenged; (1) the organisation itself produces the content, and (2) the organisation gets content from outside.  Under Section 3 of the Delivery of Books and Newspapers (Public Libraries) Act 1954, all publishers of books and newspapers within the territory of India to which this Act applies have to give a copy of the book to the National Library of Calcutta and three other public libraries identified by the Central Government, within thirty days of publication of the book.

This was seen as a possible point of intervention; the scope of the Act could be expanded to include submission by the publishers of books in an accessible format that could be used by organisations involved in book production for the visually impaired. The organisations could then approach the library concerned instead of individual publishers. Mr. Manocha also raised the issue of the lack of standards for the formats in which these books were produced and lack of clarity as to the identification of a deciding authority for this.

Another critical area for intervention identified by Mr. Manocha is the government’s procurement policy for schools and other institutions. He pointed out that it was very important to ensure that hardware and software procured by schools and educational institutions should be usable with assistive technologies. This mandate should be embedded within the procurement policy itself. There was consensus on the view that the policy is one which should address all disabilities and not relate to persons of specific disabilities. Mr. Manocha further drew attention to the fact that the Solution Exchange Forum was a fruitful space for discussion and action on matters relating for ICT for development, and it has been actively engaging in the past year with issues of accessibility for the blind in the use of emerging technologies.

The next issue which was addressed was the concern that there was no transparency in the government with respect to the total budget allocated to research and development (R&D) in the field of disability. Both Mr. Manocha and Mr. Abidi furnished examples of pointless and wasted efforts on R&D. According to Mr. Manocha Rs. 1.5 crores was spent in designing a keyboard especially for the blind, which was later realised to be unnecessary since blind people everywhere were perfectly capable of and were in fact using normal keyboards. Mr. Abidi also said that lots of money has been spent in inventing the electric wheelchair many times over. It is hence of utmost importance that the Government and the Disability sector should work in tandem to ensure that enough money is being spent on R&D which is relevant to the disability sector. It was felt that there should be a committee set up for this purpose and a clear policy or guidelines set out for the disbursement of funds for constructive R&D.

Mr. Abidi stressed that the group is no longer looking at dealing with just the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment for addressing its needs. With the presence of documents such as the UNCRPD, The National Policy, and the Eleventh Five Year Plan, we are in a position to approach any and all of the concerned departments. Overall there were several areas identified for policy/guideline intervention, and the members were divided into sub groups to take up activities in their areas of expertise. Each sub group decided on a time line for itself, within which it would work on and present to the rest of the group guidelines or a draft policy on its chosen area. After a period during which the rest of the group has had time to give inputs, these would be consolidated and taken up for action.

Areas for which groups were formed for policy formulation are

  1. Publishing and public documents
  2. Procurement policy
  3. Monitoring mechanisms for commissioning R&D
  4. Software accessibility guidelines
  5. Accessibility for the white goods sector
  6. TV and broadcasting standards
  7. Assistive technologies (OCRs, TTS, Speech to text, screen readers, Daisy players and other assistive aids)

It was agreed that the implementation and monitoring of these policies was just as crucial a task as the planning stage. The meeting finally concluded with a vote of thanks to all the members and a commitment to revert on tasks set out within the stipulated time frames.