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Report of the Global Accessibility Awareness Day 2017

Posted by Nirmita Narasimhan at Jun 17, 2017 03:50 AM |
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Aditya Tejas attended the Global Accessibility Awareness Day event organized at NIMHANS Convention Centre in Bengaluru. The event had multiple panels and presentations, including a talk on coding for accessibility, a panel on why accessibility is necessary and how India is lagging behind in implementing it, and a presentation on how accessibility principles are integrated into the product life cycle at Cisco.

Logo of Shuttleworth Foundation below:


Global Accessibility Awareness Day is celebrated across the world on May 3 every year. The objective of the event is to get everyone talking, thinking and learning about digital access/inclusion and people with different disabilities.

This year the Global Accessibility Awareness Day 2017 (GAAD 2017) organized by Prakat Solutions and co-hosted by CIS and Mitra Jyoti, was held on May 18 at NIMHANS Convention Centre in Bengaluru. The event was designed to raise awareness around digital accessibility issues for persons with disabilities. The Shuttleworth Foundation also supported this event. Approximately 250 people were in attendance. The URL for the event is here. A detailed agenda can be found here. Video recordings of the event will be made available shortly.

The event ran from 2:30-7:30 PM and featured various discussions and events, including dance ceremonies, skits, and talks by various figures.

The first event was an extended presentation on coding for accessibility by Nawaz Khan of PayPal, in which he discussed how developers can integrate accessibility principles into their software from the design phase, and how persons with disabilities can productively make their issues known to developers. He encouraged developers to adopt international standards such as WAI-ARIA, and also encouraged developers to use accessible open source libraries and testing tools. He took questions about standards for other types of disabilities beyond visual impairment, joining the global conversation around accessibility standards, and accessibility design for mobile platforms.

The main event was a panel on the awareness of accessibility issues in India and how they could be improved, both in the public and private spheres. In attendance were Abhik Biswas of Prakat Solutions, Pranay Gadodia of Deutsche Bank HR, Shalini Subramaniam of PayPal, Balachandra Shetty of Intuit, Sandeep Sabat of ZingUp Life, Kameshwari from Wipro, Mahabala Shetty from NIC, and Srinivasu from Informatica. The panel was moderated by Giri Prakash of Hindu Business Line. They discussed issues including how to promote a stronger government response to accessibility issues, initiatives that can be taken from the private or civil society sector in order to address accessibility issues, the lack of awareness around accessibility in the Indian context, and the responsibilities that developers have to make accessible apps and products. Shalini from PayPal talked about the potential for government initiatives such as Make in India could be used to further the availability of accessible consumer products and services in India.

The second speaker, Kameshwari Visarapu from Wipro, talked about how persons with disabilities need to make their voices heard in society. She stressed that, while the laws are already in place, people do not demand their rights. Without this, the government and any community, even those with the necessary power, would not be able to make the changes. Mahabala Shetty from NIC pointed out that NIC is responsible for developing and updating various government websites. He said he understood that the inaccessibility of government websites and services is a serious problem, and pledged to make sure that all websites would be made accessible in the coming months.

The fifth speaker was Sandeep Sabat of ZingUp Life, also a health tech company, which seeks to help people with issues not just around physical health, but also emotional, mental and spiritual health. He drew a comparison with the beginning of the mobile revolution, when people would say that web on mobile is a small, niche space, which eventually gave way to the idea of mobile-first design. Extending this analogy, he said that design must now be accessibility-first, in order to ensure that it becomes part of the culture of product development.

The sixth speaker at the event was Balachandra Shetty from Intuit. He pointed out that design principles needed to make a product accessible and making that product easy to use for the general public are the same, and that improving the user experience for 20% of the population effectively improves it for everyone.

The seventh speaker was Pranay Gadodia from Deutsche Bank HR, who argued that accessibility was important not just for persons with disabilities, but for everyone. He gave the example of ramps on public entrances, which make access easier for everyone. He demonstrated the use of a screen reader and tried to order food through Swiggy. When he found that the app was inaccessible, he pointed out that they had just lost a customer.

The eighth speaker, Srinivasu from Informatica, talked about his work in the accessibility space for various NGOs and companies. He argued that inaccessibility was never built into a product by design, and that any problems were the result of ignorance. He also said that accessibility work was the only career with two major benefits – that of creating an immediate impact among the community and being the kind of work that not only takes advantage of a business opportunity but also directly benefits consumers.

The ninth speaker, Abhik Biswas, said that he believes that accessibility is a nonissue, because if everyone wrote good code and followed best practices, all products would be accessible anyway. He said this was not always the case with software tools. He gave the example of work that Prakat did with a provider of legal software. In large corporate lawsuits, parties would usually share terabytes of data with each other, and legal e-discovery software is used to discover patterns for evidence. An inaccessible document would be useless to such software so, of course accessibility isn’t an issue only for a certain set of people. If you’re in the innovation space and trying to solve problems, he stressed, then accessibility is an issue.

The moderator then raised the issue of the lack of progress for persons with disabilities in the past five years. He asked what progress has been made in the legal area, and whether there are any solutions that users can come up with themselves rather than waiting for government action. Shalini pointed out the inaccessibility of the Swiggy app, and added that there are automated accessibility checkers for apps, both Apple and Android. She demonstrated this for the audience.

Kameshwari said that part of the problem is that a single person may not be able or willing to make much noise. There are a lot of communities that have been formed on a corporate/state/national level, but collectively making noise is important for major changes. One process that her own company tried was creating a repository of pre-tested accessible components, which has two advantages; the developer can pick the component from a standardized repository, and the component would have been pre-tested for accessibility and responsiveness. This is another possible solution – which people collectively come up with standardized repositories of accessible components.

She then gave the example of an accessible garden in Kerala, where persons with disabilities could visit and touch different types of plants in a guided experience to help them identify and understand them. When talking about inclusivity, she asked, why create a separate garden? Integrate these features into all gardens instead, she suggested.

The third speaker said that the government drains enthusiasm from people, and insisted that it could only play the role of a facilitator. The need is to inspire the necessary passion in people to carry forward the issues themselves.

Sandeep said that the intent is already there, but the government was not capable of doing it alone. The social fabric of the country needs to change, along with the attitude of the society. To that end, they suggested making accessibility a non-issue, and looking for opportunities to integrate it into society at large. Instead of thinking of it through a usability standpoint, consider how to improve the overall user experience of a product through the lens of a user with disabilities.

Balachandra pointed out that while love is a strong emotion, fear too is very powerful. The laws in the Commonwealth are much stricter than those in the US, he pointed out, and yet apps built in those countries are far more accessible than those in Indonesia, India etc. So, he suggested that if a product proved to be inaccessible to a certain segment of the population, the employees responsible could face down the CEO, and fear would drive them to make their products accessible. In addition, he called for stricter laws and a possible amendment of the IT Act, drawing upon laws in the Commonwealth and France. Disability discrimination in the US carries a high penalty, and suggested that similar laws would enforce accessibility in local products.

The moderator asked Pranay: is it possible for app developers or mobile platform providers to make accessibility mandatory for apps that are publicly released? He answered that as a tech developer he might not be the right person to answer that, however, he know that the iOS framework is much more stringent than Android in this regard. He called on users with disabilities to call out inaccessible design wherever they saw it, in order to inform developers and to create a healthy competition to make companies disability-inclusive. He also pointed out that many corporations hold events or draft policy for persons with disabilities without involving them in the decision-making process, and that this needed to change.

Srinivasu stressed that the job of making government services accessible fell on the developers within the government, who are in-house, or the vendors, who work for NIC. There are two things the government can do, he said; when asking for a vendor, they could refuse those who make inaccessible products, thus making accessibility a requirement for procurement.

The second is to raise accessibility issues at the level of education. He gave the example of several apps like TaxiForSure and Cleartrip, all of which responded to accessibility issues raised by their users. He stressed that any user could give feedback, and not just those with disabilities, and that raising awareness is a duty for everyone. He asked the audience to share the event on WhatsApp, and to type with their non-dominant hand, as a simple way of understanding disability. The other exercise he called on the audience to do is to write a post about the event on Facebook or their blogs using only the keyboard, without touching their mouse. In this way, he drew attention to thinking about accessibility whenever one uses a website or software.

Abhik took the opportunity to add one more dimension, an area of concern for app developers in India in particular – that of linguistic accessibility. Most apps, he pointed out, are being developed in English only, and most government apps have the additional burden of considering vernacular languages, while NVDA only supports 10-12. The government can’t solve this problem by making multilingual websites, as developers also need to contribute to projects like NVDA in order to build support for other languages. Accessibility, he stressed, wasn’t anyone’s problem, but everyone’s problem.

After this, Shekhar Naik, former captain of the Indian blind cricket team, talked about his life story. He mentioned that there are over 5c0k blind cricketers in the country. He talked about his passion for cricket, how it brought him to where he was today, and thanked the government for its increased recognition and felicitation of persons with disabilities.

After that, the owner of Pothole Raja, Pratap Bhimasena Rao, spoke about the importance of the accessibility of built environments such as roads. He pointed out that 25% of vehicular accidents cause a disability, and stressed the need to address these issues to promote not just accessibility, but prevent disability.

After this, Amit Balakrishna Joshi from the state government gave a brief overview of the Karnataka government’s accessibility and e-governance initiatives. He spoke about the Karnataka Mobile One app, an initiative to consolidate and digitize several state government services. As the world’s largest Mobile One platform, it would integrate about 40 departments, with the objective of bringing equality in service delivery across socioeconomic, linguistic and literacy divides.

At 7:00, Sean Murphy from Cisco gave a talk on universal design principles. He discussed how universal design is important to maximize market access, ensuring that a company reaches 100% of its market. In Cisco, accessibility is integrated into the product lifecycle right from the design phase to testing to rollout.

He also discussed regulatory standards such as Section 508 in the US, which he stressed were critical to securing industry-wide accessibility. The event ended at 7:30 p.m.


GAAD lamplighting

Participants light the lamp to commemorate the start of GAAD 2017.

GAAD Abhik Biswas

Prakat Solutions co-founder Abhik Biswas speaks at GAAD 2017.

GAAD 2017 panel

Panelists discuss accessibility challenges in India.

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