HYDERABAD: Digital accessibility should be a part of company policies. Are you providing cab services and bathrooms for your disabled employees? Do your lifts have braille labels? These are not big changes. But unfortunately, most workplaces are yet to tap the potential of people with disabilities,” says Raghavendra Satish Peri from Secunderabad, who was one of the recipients of the NCPEDP-Mphasis Universal Design Awards 2020.
Accessibility is not limited to physical spaces but also applies to information, technology, transport, services, aids and appliances. While designing public spaces, offices or digital content, people with disabilities are often left out. The National Centre for Promotion of Employment for Disabled People has honoured citizens who are working towards making the world more inclusive. Another person from Hyderabad who received a special jury award is Dr Srinivas Puppala.
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Raghavendra is a web designer who built the first team of accessibility specialists at IBM India. A visually-impaired person, he now works as a senior accessibility consultant at Deque Software. He has helped more than 350 companies spread across e-commerce, healthcare, education, insurance, banking, and financial sectors. To educate young professionals and communities involved in digital accessibility, he started an accessibility blog ‘DigitalA11y’ that gets 20,000 views every month. He also runs an online community called helloa11y.com, which is a community of accessibility professionals from across India.
“I help companies make their content accessible for everyone by complying to the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.1. For example, if there is a digital image, I check if there is a need for alternative text. If it’s a decorative image, it does not need any, but if it is an informative image, then it needs alternative text. If there is a video with speech, then there must be captions,” says the accessibility expert.
Helping the deaf get driving licenses
Dr Srinivas Puppala, who is a deputy transport commissioner in the state transport department, was moved by the inability of the deaf or hearing-impaired persons to acquire a driving license. “When one has to apply for a driving license, she has to inform in the form if she has any hearing impairment. Most people feel dejected at this juncture as their applications get rejected. In fact, it also gives rise to the problem of many driving without a legal license,” says Dr Srinivas.
To address this, the transport official decided to train persons with hearing impairments on how they can empower themselves to get a license. He eventually went on to train 40 persons to pass the theory and practical driving tests. The initiative has ensured independent living for many persons with hearing disabilities and currently, it is being replicated across the country.
Explaining how it can be done, Dr Srinivas says: “The deaf and hearing-impaired cannot fully/partially hear the sound of traffic. This can be overcome by focussing on the rear and side view mirrors. However, there is a blind spot adjacent to the vehicle which cannot be viewed in the above mentioned mirrors. One can buy a blind spot mirror to address this.
For everyone’s safety, the person should not exceed the speed limit of 50km/hour. She can also display a ‘I am deaf. Please pay attention,’ sticker on the vehicle.” Shakuntala D Gamlin, secretary of the Department Of Empowerment Of Persons With Disabilities, said, “Accessibility issues are challenging to policy makers, engineers, governments, corporates, innovators and inventors, but we should not stop trying to move towards a professed goal of universal accessibility.”
4 principles of Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG 2.1)
Perceivable: Information and user interface components must be presentable to users in ways they can perceive. This means that users must be able to perceive the information being presented.
It can’t be invisible to all of their senses.
Operable: User interface components and navigation must be operable. This means that users must be able to operate the interface (the interface cannot require interaction that a user cannot perform).
Understandable: Information and the operation of user interface must be understandable. This means that users must be able to understand the information as well as the operation of the user interface (the content or operation cannot be beyond their understanding).
Robust: Content must be robust enough that it can be interpreted reliably by a wide variety of user agents, including assistive technologies. If any of these are not true, users with disabilities will not be able to use the Web.