Centre for Internet & Society

From its inception, CIS has been working towards reform of copyright law both at the national and international levels and towards formulation of an electronic accessibility policy for India. The year 2010 has been quite eventful for developments in the area of accessibility for persons with disabilities at the national and international levels. In this blog post, Nirmita Narasimhan looks at some of the work done by CIS and other organisations to promote digital accessibility and inclusion for persons with disabilities during the calendar year 2010.

As the year 2010 comes to an end, it seems like a good time to pause and reflect on the various activities and movements which are vibrant in India and the world over for promoting digital access for persons with disabilities and the work which CIS has done in this area.

At CIS, we began the accessibility programme with a vision — a vision of a truly accessible Internet, where every person with a disability could have access to websites and digital content without technology, design or legal barriers. The Internet and ICT technologies should be promoted as desirable tools to empower persons with disabilities to enjoy their basic rights, of education, employment and enjoyment of life.

The first initiative which we were involved in was to formulate a national electronic accessibility policy with the Department of Information Technology to ensure that all government and public websites should conform to WCAG 2.0. Over the past year, the DIT has come out with a draft policy which is now being circulated amongst state governments and ministries for feedback.

The year 2010 has also witnessed several interesting public and private initiatives for digital accessibility in India. The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) began its Indian chapter under the Ministry of Information and Communications Technology. It has been extremely proactive in bringing together experts from around the country and chalking out a systematic work plan for engaging with the public and private sectors to promote awareness and raise skill on web accessibility. An interesting development in the private sector is the accessibility initiative of the NASSCOM Foundation, which is engaging with the IT industry to promote accessibility and employment of persons with disabilities.

The Copyright Challenge

The year 2010 has ended on a more positive note for copyright amendment for the benefit of persons with disabilities. After carrying on a focused six-month long national campaign for “The Right to Read”, disability organisations around the country came together to form the National Access Alliance to jointly lobby for copyright amendments with the Government of India. Several members of the Alliance deposed personally before the standing committee constituted by the Parliament of India to look into the matter and several others sent in written representations. A large part of the month of March was spent in trying to meet and brief the Members of Parliament to gather support for the amendment and to explain the dire necessity for the change. After a nail biting three-month period, the committee came out with its report, which recommended very strongly the pleas of the print disability community with regard to fair dealing for creating accessible versions of books. We are now awaiting the amended draft which should hopefully be presented to the Parliament by the HRD Ministry next year.

On the international scene also, there were positive developments with respect to agreement on the need for a legally binding instrument for exceptions for the print disabled. Early 2010 seemed to be very slow moving with the negotiations seeming to take a down turn when the June SCCR meeting ended without any concrete conclusions and no agreement amongst member states on the matter for the Treaty for the Blind. Several different proposals from USA, EU and Africa have been made in addition to the original BEPM proposal for solving the problem of cross-border sharing of accessible copyrighted materials. While two of these proposals, pertaining to EU and USA, were for non-binding instruments, the fact that they had made specific proposals on this issue showed that there was common consensus about the existence of a serious obstacle to accessing knowledge for print impaired persons, and that it needed an international solution. India was extremely supportive of the Treaty and did her best to help with mobilising developing countries support for the Treaty. The November SCCR ended on a good note with member states agreeing on a time based work plan for tackling three issues — exceptions for the print disabled, libraries and archives and for education, to be carried over 2011–2012. 

Apart from WIPO, there have been good developments in other quarters as well. The United Nations Department of Social and Economic affairs started working towards accessibility within the UN system to make all documentation and communications, websites, buildings and human resources of UN and other international agencies accessible. For the first time, Disability was included in the MDG progress report and specifically mentioned in the Outcome Document of the High-Level Summit of the Millennium Development Goals. In addition, the General Assembly at its sixty-fifth session adopted the resolution on realization of MDGs for persons with disabilities for 2015 and beyond. Apart from efforts at the UN level, the year 2010 has also witnessed a lot of conferences and discussions taking place in countries around the world and a lot of organisations like G3ict, ITU and others have been extremely proactive in raising awareness in different countries and governments. February of this year saw the launch of the joint on line publication of G3ict-ITU “e-Accessibility Toolkit for Policy Makers”, a phenomenal work with contributions from over 65 experts around the world on implementation of the digital aspects of the Convention. Subsequently, a print version of this book was edited in-house at CIS and launched during an international conference at New Delhi in October. The book is gaining wide publicity and is being sent to regulators and ministries of IT around the world to assist them in their policy making.

At CIS, we have worked with a wide variety of persons and organisations from varying backgrounds on different issues, ranging from policy formulation to organising events, such as the Edict conference on enabling education through ICT for persons with disabilities. We had a lot of national and international partners, resource persons  and participants at Edict 2010 and found the entire event a huge learning experience. We also came in touch with the officials at the Universal Service Obligation Fund in India and are exploring ways in which the fund can be used to benefit persons with disabilities.

This is also a year when the Persons with Disabilities Act is being amended. This process has been a turbulent one, with quite a bit of discord between the drafting committee, the disability sector and the government on the content and form of the new Act and the issues it needs to address. We have been actively involved in this process, giving feedback to the various drafts of the legislations which are circulated, attending consultations and so on. We see this activity taking up a lot of our time over the next year as well.

This year has been quite eventful for the accessibility team. We would like to acknowledge the support of all organisations, institutions and individuals who have supported our work and look forward to strengthening collaborations in the years to come.

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