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Indian Universal Service Obligation Fund’s Pilot Project Scheme for Access to ICTs and ICT enabled Services for PwDs in rural India

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Indian Universal Service Obligation Fund’s Pilot Project Scheme for Access to ICTs and ICT enabled Services for PwDs in rural India

Archana Gulati 

By Archana.G.Gulati

Why Initiate Such a Scheme:

India is home to one of the largest disabled population in the world. As per census 2001, 21.9 million Indians suffer from some form of disability. Seventy five per cent of persons with disabilities live in rural areas. A good percentage of these would either be unemployed and/or illiterate.  ICTs can play an important role in facilitating the socio-economic and political inclusion and mainstreaming of PwDs as ICTs can enable them to access various services (health, education, government services etc), information, employment opportunities etc and most importantly, to communicate effectively in spite of their particular disability.  However for ICTs to play this role, the ICT services must be available, affordable and be truly “accessible”.

The Universal Service Obligation Fund of India (USOF) came into being with effect from 1.4.02 with the passing of the Indian Telegraph (Amendment) Act 2003 in December 2003. The Fund which is headed by the USOF Administrator has a mandate of providing access to Telegraph (Telecommunications) services to people in rural and remote areas at reasonable and affordable prices. The Fund has initiated a large number of schemes aimed at promoting public and individual access to telephony and broadband services in rural India. 

Ensuring that PwDs in rural India are able to effectively access telecommunications services is an important facet of bridging the digital divide. Given its mandate, USOF appreciates that special initiatives and schemes are required to this end. In fact USOF is aware that addressing the need of individual and public access to telecommunications services by PwDs in rural India will also benefit the significant proportion of rural Indians who are aged or illiterate and need assistive technologies (ATs) to enable meaningful ICT access. For example, speech to text ATs would benefit both PwDs and illiterate/semi-literate to communicate and could facilitate them to perform ICT enabled/related jobs. Keeping this in view, it has been decided to launch a scheme of pilot projects for enabling PwDs in rural areas to access ICTs and ICT enabled services.    

Scheme Description

In keeping with its mandate of Universal service and in recognition of the vital role that ICTs can play in facilitating the daily lives of PwDs, enhancing their well being and productivity and enabling their active participation in society, it has been decided to launch a scheme of Pilot Projects for access to ICT facilities combined with ATs for PwDs in rural India. These projects would address accessibility in terms of hardware, software and human interface. The projects are envisaged to cover persons with various forms of disability including inter alia sensory (including vision and hearing), cognitive and motor disability. In this initiative, USOF would like to enlist the assistance of various stakeholders including inter alia telecom service providers, telecom equipment manufacturers, mobile and internet/broadband content providers, NGOs, Ministry of Social Justice & Empowerment etc.  

· This scheme seeks to provide PwDs in rural India with meaningful access to telecommunications facilities and through telecommunications facilities, to enable them to access public services, information, educational and employment opportunities. To this end, USOF intends to undertake a variety of pilot projects to facilitate access to ICTs for PwDs. This would take the form of facilitation with regard to provision of appropriate ATs by way of telecommunications infrastructure (mobile phones and computers/servers), assistive software and content (including real time information and data bank of books and other printed matters relevant to PwDs). The projects would also cover the aspect of training of both facilitators and PwDs in the use of ATs.

· It is hoped that these pilot projects would effectively demonstrate and highlight the utility and positive impact of AT enabled ICT access for PwDs and this would encourage service providers and other stakeholders to take up such initiatives on a larger scale in order to address the needs of PwDs.
Benefits/Anticipated Outcomes

Through this initiative it is primarily hoped to enrich the lives of the PwDs who are provided with ICT enabled access to information, skills and employment opportunities under the scheme. The scheme is expected to result in enhancement of self-reliance of PwDs covered and in their integration with and mainstreaming into society. The pilot projects would thus be expected to contribute to the social, political and economic empowerment of PwDs.

It is also envisaged that the success of these pilots will effectively demonstrate the utility and benefits of AT enabled ICTs to the Persons with Disabilities and their families in rural India and to institutions/organizations dealing with PwDs, on the demand side, and to service providers, equipment manufacturers and content providers etc, on the supply side. This scheme is expected to provide an impetus to the development of ATs and relevant content in accessible formats in regional languages. Finally, it is expected that the success of these projects will lead to scaling up of such initiatives to the national level under both commercial and CSR agendas of service providers/telecom manufacturers/content providers.

Contact Information:

Archana G. Gulati,
Joint Administrator (Finance), Universal Service Obligation Fund,
Room No. 1118, Sanchar Bhavan, 20 Ashoka Road, New Delhi 110001
Phone: +91-11-23372437, Mob: +91-9868137716,

For updates on the Scheme, please refer to


Related Blogs: Stakeholders Meeting of the USOF on Facilitating ICT Access to Persons with Disabilities in Rural Areas: Read blog here.