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Dorodi Sharma


ICTs for Empowerment of Persons with Disabilities: Role of DPOs in India

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According to the CRPD 2013 ICT Accessibility Progress Report, Disabled Persons Organizations can play a critical role in mainstreaming the rights of persons with disabilities, writes Dorodi Sharma.

G3ict – DPI training session for leaders of South Asia Disabled Persons Organizations

Image: G3ict – DPI training session for leaders of South Asia Disabled Persons Organizations, organized with the technical support of BarrierBreak Technologies India and Microsoft on February 15-16, 2014. See event webpage.

When one talks of disability, it is often required to underscore the magnitude and overwhelming facts associated with it. There are 1 billion people with disabilities in the world today. Of this, as many as 800 million live in the countries of the Global South (1). People with disabilities comprise 20 percent of the world’s poorest (2). According to the World Health Organization, 51-53 percent of persons with disabilities cannot afford healthcare (3). In developing countries, 80-90 percent of PWD of working age are unemployed (4). In many low-income and middle-income countries, only 5-15 percent of people who require assistive devices and technologies have access to them (5).                    

It is, therefore, imperative to keep these realities in mind when we talk of ICT and disability. Information and Communication Technologies have changed and stand to change the lives of PWD – be it in education, employment, travel, leisure, and so on. However, despite progress in some areas, the discourse on disability and ICT still needs to address several lacunae. This includes the lack of research & innovation; unavailability and unaffordability of technology; lack of awareness among policy makers; and most importantly, the lack of capacity within the disability movement to advocate for ICT accessibility and digital inclusion. The latter, by far, is the most crucial barrier that needs to be overcome to turn the tide towards ICT advancements for inclusion and empowerment of persons with disabilities.

Disabled People’s International (DPI) is a global cross-disability disabled persons organization (DPO) with membership in over 130 countries across seven regions of the world. Majority of our membership is based in countries of the Global South representing grassroots disability movements. Leveraging this unparalleled reach at the grassroots, DPI partnered with G3ict to conduct a survey that would help us assess the level of ICT compliance of States Parties to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. The CRPD Report offers a benchmarking tool that collects data on country laws related to accessible and assistive ICTs around the globe. The results of the survey and the report are available on the G3ict website.

While noting progress in developing national legislations reflecting the core dispositions of the CRPD, the report documents significant deficits in promoting policies and programs to make essential services accessible to persons with disabilities around the world. For example, many DPOs expressed ignorance on several issues related to ICT accessibility and many others noted that they did not have the technical expertise within their organisations/networks to tackle some questions in the survey. And these are national umbrella DPOs we are talking about, organizations that are key to inclusion and to bringing change vis-à-vis disability related policies and services.

Another example that would indicate a certain amount of apathy that DPOs tend to have towards ICT accessibility comes from India. Despite the fact that India is one of the leading players in the technology world, it did not have a policy on web accessibility till as late as 2008-09. Even as we speak, less than 50 of the 5,000 odd government websites, including those for services such as income tax, passport applications, railway reservations, and banking are WCAG compatible.

ICT is a key element towards realizing equal opportunity for persons with disabilities. This is especially true for those in the developing world where in general, ICT is delivering key development services and programmes. This includes mobile technology based services. In countries where disability is fighting an uphill battle to get the attention of policy makers and decision makers, the fact that everything should be inclusive does not automatically arise. It therefore takes a very alert and active civil society movement to ensure that disability finds its space in the policy realm.

The discourse in the international sphere, on the other hand, is much more advanced. In fact, there is currently a huge buzz about ICT accessibility in disability inclusive development. But this discussion and know-how needs to reach the grassroots. There is a huge gap that needs to be addressed – the missing link.

One such effort in this direction is a capacity building workshop for DPOs in South Asia, held on February 15-16 in New Delhi, India. The training was organized by G3ict and BarrierBreak Technologies, India with support from Microsoft and DPI. The workshop aimed at promoting interest in ICT accessibility and to strengthen knowledge and motivation among DPO leaders to interface effectively with multiple stakeholders in implementing ICT accessibility.

This training workshop is a manifestation of several discussions between G3ict and DPI on the need to create a strong cadre of disability movement leaders trained and equipped with the knowledge to advocate for ICT accessibility in their own countries and regions. The aim is to take this idea to as many regions and sub-regions across the globe, primarily the Global South, as possible.

The larger goal, however, is to ensure that we do not miss the huge opportunity to enable realization of the rights of persons with disabilities and implementation of CRPD through digital inclusion and ICT accessibility at a time when disability is gaining currency in the development and human rights agenda.






About the Author:
Darodi SharmaDorodi Sharma has a masters in communication & journalism. She worked with NDTV, a leading television network of India, before joining the disability movement. She has been involved in several significant cross-disability advocacy campaigns at the national level in India. In her capacity as OSD to Chairperson of Disabled People's International (DPI), she has been active in DPI's work on disability & development.  Dorodi's writings on disability have appeared in leading Indian publications such as The Hindu and The Asian Age, among others.



Related Resources

Blog: Role of Disabled People Organizations in Promoting the Rights of Persons with Disabilities: The Need for Better Implementation Mechanism | Read Viviana Montenegro's Blog.

Publication: CRPD 2013 ICT Accessibility Progress Report - 3rd Edition | Download Free PDF.

Event: G3ict ICT Accessibility Week India | February 13-21, 2014, New Delhi - Mumbai | View Event Details.