To bring inclusion in ICT, the Telecom Regulator of India (TRAI) had issued a Consultation Paper on ‘Making ICT Accessible for Persons with Disabilities’ on 20 December 2017.
Many disability/accessibility rights organizations as well cellular operators, broadcasters and electronic manufacturers took part in the consultation and submitted their ideas which became the basis of TRAI’s recommendations.
Later, after receiving response from stake holders TRAI also held an open house discussion on 5 April 2018, wherein a number of stakeholders including telecom & broadcasting service providers, industry associations, NGOs, academia etc. participated and offered their valuable comments on the issues raised in the consultation paper, viz. challenges faced by PwDs in accessing telecommunication and broadcasting services, reasons for not getting desired benefits despite several past policy interventions, corrective measures required to be taken by the Government, need to adopt international accessibility standards, mandate for telecom and broadcasting services by Government, manner in which CSR fund of the companies can be used for development of assistive tools, services, applications, etc. The stakeholders reiterated the need to have uniform policy on the issue so that the unique challenges faced by the PwD community are addressed.
Finally on 9 July 2018, TRAI released its recommendations and submitted the draft to the Government for framing a policy.
The salient features of the recommendations are as follows:
- Disabilities as specified in Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act (RPwD), 2016 are comprehensive and do not require any modification for formulating policies for enabling ICT access to PwDs.
- A Steering Committee under the aegis of Department of Empowerment of Persons with Disabilities be setup with Members from Department of Telecom(DoT), Ministry of Information & Broadcasting (MIB), Ministry of Electronics & IT (MeitY), Ministry of Corporate Affairs and Ministry of Finance with a mandate to (i) Review from time to time accessibility of ICTto PwDs (ii) Formulate guidelines, implementation and monitoring mechanism to improve ICT accessibility for PwDs (iii) Suggest additional measures required by the Government including funding requirements; and (iv) Collaborate with state Governments for proper coordination and harmonisation of the activities to be undertaken.
- The Measures suggested by International Telecommunication Union (ITU) viz. (i) ensuring availability and affordability of accessible equipment & assistive tools (ii) PwD specific products, tariff plans & accessible customer care services (iii) Making services and interfaces like television and internet accessible to PwDs through closed captioning and audio description etc. (iv) undertaking awareness campaigns on availability of accessible content and tools, should be adopted in India.
- Government should mandate the device manufacturers/importers not to curtail the accessibility features available in popular operating systems in any manner from their devices (manufactured or imported in India). An undertaking to this effect may be taken from manufacturers/importers while lab certification v. TSPs to identify and register PwDs under special category and necessary changes in Customer Acquisition Forms (CAF) should be made to this effect.
- TSPs, MSOs and DTH operators to have special desks in their call centres/ customer support centres to handle calls from PwDs using assistive technologies.
- To facilitate accessibility of emergency services by PwDs, separate desks in each Pubic Safety Answering Point [to be setup. following earlier recommendations made by the Authority on April 2015 regarding "Integrated Emergency Communication and Response System (lECRS)" to be setup where attendant executive should accept calls/SMS/Social Media calls from PwDs and provide them assistance. The desk would also have Relay Centre to cater to requests from deaf and speech impaired people.
- TSPs, MSOs/DTH and PSAP operators to provide sensitivity training to their executives to deal with issues of PwDs
- Specific essential accessibility standards for mobile phones, land line phones and set top boxes have been identified and prescribed.
- Percentages of channel content to be developed in accessible format for PwDs with audio and visual. 50% of the channels to be developed in accessible format by next five years.
- By the end of 2020, all mobile handset manufacturers producing 5 or more different models to produce at least one mobile handset satisfying accessibility criteria for PwDs.
- Set Top Box (STB) manufacturers/importers should make/import at least one model in different variants of STBs in accessible format by 2020.
- Government creating and maintaining a database of devices and ancillary equipment satisfying prescribed accessibility standards.
- Government to mandate that lCT products (Computer Hardware, Mobile Phones, STBs) procured by Government agencies should be accessible to PwDs and should have associated support documentation and services in accessible format.
- All Government websites to be accessibility compliant to the PwDs.
- Department of Telecom (DoT) and Ministry of Information and Broadcasting(MIB) to instruct TSPs and DTH/MSOs to conduct awareness campaigns regarding accessibility issues, design, affordability, availability of assistive tools and products and about various Government policies/schemes pertaining to accessible lCT that can be availed by PwDs.
- Bills in accessible format
- The telecom authority recommended that every mobile manufacturer who produces 5 or more different models of mobile handsets should provide at least one mobile handset satisfying the accessibility criteria for PwDs.
The disability sector hopes that recommendations submitted by TRAI would soon be accepted by the Department of Telecommunication (DoT) for framing a national policy which is crucial for standardization of ICT and inclusion of persons with disabilities, which as per the World Bank Report (2007) titled ‘People with disabilities in India: from commitments to outcomes’, “there is growing evidence that people with disabilities comprise between 4 and 8 percent of the Indian population.”
For achieving a truly inclusive information society, persons with disabilities must be able to use information and communication technologies (ICTs) with equal ease. This can be made possible only if the accessibility of ICTs is on the top of the agenda of manufacturers and service providers. Though, it makes business sense to attract persons with disabilities with ICTs having accessibility features, manufacturers failed to tap this opportunity. Hence, a stringent policy is required to ensure persons with disabilities get what they need. A comprehensive plan is needed to adopt accessible operating system for product development and service divisions to include everyone.