Friday, May 29, 2009

Disability advocates push the Indian government to redesign Web sites to be accessible


NEW DELHI -- Disabled rights groups have approached the IT ministry with a list of 50 government websites like that of the Indian Railways, Central Information Commission and Income Tax Department which they want to be made disabled friendly.

'We have identified 50 organisations and departments in the government. We have sent a proposal to the IT ministry to make sites of these WCAG (web content accessibility guidelines) 2.0 compliant, thereby making them disabled friendly. The ministry has shown a very positive outlook on this,' Javed Abidi, convener of the Disabled Rights Group, told IANS.

According to Abidi, such a move would simplify the Internet interface for people with disability by making the websites compatible with the special software they use to access websites.

'With an aim to enable disabled people to be a part of e-governance, we came to a consensus on the list after discussions with various disability groups across the country. Simple things like booking a rail ticket will be possible for people with visual impairment once the site carries out technical changes,' he said.

Abidi, who is also director of the National Centre for Promotion of Employment for Disabled People (NCPEDP) - an umbrella organisation of various NGOs and civil society organisations working on disability issues - said that 99.99 percent of the estimated 5,000 websites and web portals hosted by the government of India listed by the National Information Centre (NIC) can't be accessed by people with disability.

At the e-governance conference in Goa Feb 12, it was announced that all government websites would be made WCAG 2.0 compliant.

These government websites would now enable web access to a wider range of people with disabilities, including blindness and low vision, deafness and hearing loss, learning disabilities, cognitive limitations, limited movement, speech disabilities and photosensitivity.

The challenge, Abidi said, was to make existing sites WCAG 2.0 compliant and sensitise concerned government departments.

'While the IT ministry initiated immediate action and made India's largest sites - and - accessible to the disabled, the social justice and empowerment ministry continues to drag its feet. It is ironic that it is this ministry that is supposedly nodal for various issues concerning disabled people,' he said.

Abidi added the website of the National Institute for the Visually Handicapped (NIVH) was not accessible to visually impaired people.

'Similarly, the CCPD (Chief Commissioner for Persons with Disabilities) website is still not accessible to people with disabilities. And they are supposedly the watchdogs for any Disability Act violations that may occur,' he said.