Centre for Internet & Society

At Inclusive Planet we attempt to engage as many people with disabilities as possible with the consultative process which precedes the enactment of legislation and policy, and we are very happy with the NDA Government’s positive steps in putting out all proposed amendments to the public at large for feedback.

Some of the areas on which public comment has been sought is the proposed repeal and reenactment of the Juvenile Justice Act, the amendments of three labour laws viz. the Factories Act, the Minimum Wages Act, and the Prevention of Child Labour Act, and the Railways Ministry has asked for comments towards the formulation of the Rail Budget. All of these are extremely key legislations and in fact there is a lot to contribute in terms of suggesting enabling provisions towards accessibility and recognizing potential discrimination against persons with disabilities.

Unfortunately, the disabilities sector is faced with two major problems when it comes to this process. One is that the material which is uploaded onto the respective government websites is inaccessible for screen readers. Many of these are large documents which are essentially scanned copies of the printed notifications – for example, the Factories Act press release is now available in an easier format than the original version which had been uploaded. The websites themselves are not easy to navigate and are not screen reader friendly. Efforts are on by the newly launched India Access Hub to convert these documents into an accessible format for contributors and discussions on their forum, however, the process seems tedious and there is no reason why the Government bodies cannot ensure that the best possible document, screen reader compatibility wise, is not made available to the public. This would ensure that precious time is not consumed in the process of making the document accessible.

Which is closely linked to the second issue – the comments and suggestions which have been called for are required within a short period of time – between 15 days (Juvenile Justice Act) to 30 days (all three labour legislations) and while the advertisement for the Railway Budget appears to have been put out on the weekend of the 21st of June, since the budget itself is slated to be tabled on the 8th of July by recent media reports, feedback is realistically required within this week itself. The process becomes exclusionary on account of these narrow deadlines – the presumption being made is that specialized agencies with able-bodied representatives can revert speedily with their feedback. The disability sector is quite keen on responding to all proposed legislation, as the provisions of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities demand compliance in terms of non discrimination and access across all sectors. It is also difficult to respond with such momentum considering that many stakeholders are not online, and for some, processing and expressing viewpoints may take longer than the average person, not to mention the importance of making this information available in a simplified format. Ideally, any person with impairment should be able to express their views and be considered as a stakeholder; however, with the barriers in place which prevent effective access and accommodation to the expression of views, 15% of the population may effectively be disabled to that extent.

This is by no means a new complaint – the lack of accessibility of government documentation has been rampant and raised before previous Governments as well – however, the hope is that with the NDA Government’s manifesto focus on using information technology to alleviate the concerns of persons with disabilities, that the mandate for all Government Websites to be compliant with the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0 will be implemented with immediate effect, and in the meantime that Government Officials be instructed to upload fully accessible documents to their websites. It would also not be out of place to institute a common information portal for all documents open for public consultation to make such access easier for all.

There should never be any bar on access to information: particularly that which affords an opportunity to the public to be heard and considered. It is sincerely hoped that the new Government takes a much needed positive step in this direction.

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