BANGALORE, India -- The banker wanted another business card as the one Srinivasu Chakravarthula handed had ‘holes’. Unknown to the banker, the card was embossed in Braille that enables the blind to read. The banker’s response presented Srinivasu an opportunity to get to work — educating her about a technology that has made life easier for the disabled.
As accessibility manager at Yahoo! India’s research centre in Bangalore, Srinivasu teaches people about bringing technology closer to the disabled. As far as physical traits go to decide if an employee fits in, the 29-year-old computer science graduate is quite qualified: he is blind.
At Yahoo!, Srinivasu tests and reviews every product on the accessibility count. He gives feedback on remodeling products and creating an accessibility prototype. He also works with the internet giant’s solution centres in the Asia-Pacific such as Singapore and Beijing to help establish accessibility labs.
So far, Srinivasu has worked on almost a dozen products Yahoo has launched over past one year including the popular messenger service. On an average, he works with at least eight teams giving them inputs and helping them make it easier to be accessed.
“He has filled a big and crucial gap that existed in the company. We had nobody who thought from an accessibility perspective,” says Srinivasu’s boss Sandeep Dattar, a director at Yahoo! India R&D.
The accessibility perspective is a big draw with tech companies these days. Almost every big enterprise has espied a business opportunity here. The Apple iPhone, for instance, uses the app Color Identifier, which can identify 16777216 colours, some of them with surreal names such as Atomic Orange, Cosmic, Hippie Green and Opium with the help of a Braille keypad.
Google is also not far behind in assistive computing. An assistive app called Eyes-Free Shell helps a blind person while using touchscreen on a cellphone to correctly detect and dial a number instantly. Google is also experimenting with an assistive search experience that can detect an open a search query with keys rather than mouse actions.
On its part, Yahoo and many other Internet companies have been attempting to make their email solutions and other products friendlier for challenged users. For a visually challenged person, a photo caption will not mean anything unless its read out by what is called ‘screen reader’.
“Accessibility needs to work from the time a product is conceptualised,” says Srinivasu. Inside Yahoo, people treat do not treat him any differently. Rather, he is known to be quite the brat in office. “Srinivasu sends me a mail and even before it shows sent on his computer, he calls me and asks me to check it,” says Dattar.
Knowledge and awareness about assistive technologies is something that Srinivasu developed later in life. He went to a regular school and as a kid and was of the opinion that blind people could not read. Only when his examiner asked him why he didn’t go to a special school, did it occur to him that the disabled do things differently.
“There was a blind school near my friend’s place. But we did not know what people did there. We used to cover our books with their braille paper. That was fascinating,” reminisces Srinivasu. His craze for computers, and technology perhaps, began when he saw a computer at a railway station. ‘Stupid box’, he calls it now, but as an youngster he wanted to know what it did and what he could do with it. It made him wander around and plead institutions to teach him to use it. Most turned him down due to his blindness.
Shramik Vidyapeeth, a government-run organisation, accepted him and he started dabbling with the keyboards. Following which he met an IIT professor who offered him an independent computer to work on but no other assistance.
After moving to Bangalore, he set up the braille press at national association for the blind and also ran a computer learning centre. From there, he went to teach at a school in Bidar district of northern Karnataka. “Wherever I went , I wanted the organisation to have a website. So I used to develop it for them,” he says.
In 2005, he began to specialise in accessibility and started working for Net Systems Informatics and its subsidiary, BarrierBreak Technologies. During his stint at Net Systems, he was instrumental in accessibility testing, imparting accessibility training to corporates and creating awareness about accessibility and assistive technologies.
Although he is passionate about accessibility, Srinivasu cares about the business of it too. “People need to come out of the charitable mode and think of it as a business. The more accessible the websites are, the more people will access them”.
Tuesday, December 7, 2010
From The Economic Times in India:
Posted by BA Haller at 9:24 AM