Centre for Internet & Society

Booking cabs, buying food and making payments online seem like they're just a swipe and a tap away, but for millions of disabled Indians, these apps are not designed for them to use.

The article by Arpita Raji was published in the Times of India on November 21, 2016. Nirmita Narasimhan was quoted.

According to a study conducted by Centre for Internet and Society last month, many of the most-commonly used mobile apps for food delivery, online payments, grocery shopping and transportation were not accessible to the visually challenged. The study covered 22 apps.

The 2011 census puts the number of disabled in the country at 26 million, while advocacy groups say the real figure is closer to 150 million.Last year, India recorded nearly nine billion downloads of mobile-based applications last year.

"The national policy for universal electronic accessibility says that all IT products and services should be accessible. However, the government is still unable to implement it. Several government apps are inaccessible," said Nirmita Narasimhan, policy director at CIS. CIS's survey of some key government mobile based applications like My Gov, E Pathshala and Prime Minister Narendra Modi's official app found them to be severely lacking. The illiterate, aged and those not proficient in English would also struggle with the apps, the study found. The guidelines for government websites laid out accessibility standards in 2009. The 2013 national policy on universal electronic accessibility clearly upholds equal rights "ensuring that accessibility standards and guidelines and universal design concepts are adopted and adhered to."

However, most commonly-used apps fail to follow this. All 22 of the apps studied were privately owned but not all were fully compliant with universal standards. Of taxi-hailing apps Meru, Ola and Uber, only Uber was completely accessible to the disabled. The others had mis-labelled or unlabeled buttons and graphics.

When it came to food delivery, Zomato was the best at replicating the user experience for disabled people. Swiggy and Foodpanda were difficult for new users, and Fresh menu was completely inaccessible.

Of the marketplace apps, Amazon and Snapdeal were the only accessible ones. Myntra and Flipkart had incorrectly labelled buttons and misleading graphic tags, which made them impossible for the disabled to use. For instance, customers would be able to select the product they wanted to buy but had no way of choosing the quantity, the study said. Online grocery delivery apps Grofers and Zop Now were hard for the disabled to use, while Big Basket was relatively better though pages change during orders. Online payment portals Paytm, Oxigen and FreeCharge were relatively accessible, the study found.

"Designers, developers and industries need to realize that there are more people out there who use this technology .The market is much bigger and they should work towards being inclusive," said Narasimhan of CIS.

Albinder Dhinda, co founder of grocery delivery service Grofers, said their app meets all accessibility requirements. "However, the disability tools provided by Google Play Store or the App Store often don't benefit the user and are hard for them to use. We are trying to make it better. Things like online payments won't be accessible to the disabled as those apps are supported by third party sites, and don't fall within our settings. We're trying to make it better.We're three years behind the US, in the playground they made. It'll be a while before we reach their level," he said.

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