A Better COVID-19 World for Persons with Disabilities in India.

A White Paper titled ‘Priorities for a COVID-19 World: ICT Accessibility for Persons with Disabilities in India’ was released by the Broadband India Forum (BIF) -‘ A Think-Tank for Digital Transformation’, during a special session of The Digital Dialogue on Monday, 10th August 2020.

The paper recognizes that although there are Acts, policies, and guidelines like the Guidelines for Government Websites (GIGW) 2009, the RPwD Act 2016, the Disability Inclusive Disaster Risk Reduction’ (DiDRR) 2019, and apps which are a highly commendable start towards digital inclusion, however, during the present pandemic, compliance with these acts and regulations vary from state to state, and persons with disabilities remain inconvenienced.

The White Paper delves on the critical policy interventions required for ICT accessibility for persons with disabilities, especially focusing on immediate needs arising due to Covid 19. The paper is essentially divided into 4 sections, the first introducing different groups of the population who will be benefited by accessible ICTs. The second chapter describes India’s international, regional and national commitments viz ICT accessibility and also highlights The Un roadmap for digital co-operation recently released in June 2020 which specifically talks of digital inclusion. The paper looks at India’s DARE Index score and notes that while India is high on its commitments, as is the case with most other countries globally, it falls short on capacity to implement and actual implementation. Chapter 3  identifies policy developments in various areas of ICT and flags certain areas requiring attention of different ministries, such as accessibility of television, web sites and apps, inclusion of persons with disabilities within the ambit of the Universal Service Obligation Fund, inclusion of accessibility requirements as part of generic criteria for testing and certification of telecom products, expediting the on-going process to  adopt and notify an accessible ICT procurement standard for public procurement in India, expediting the mandate to ‘connect India’ and of ‘digital inclusion’ under the National Digital Communications Policy (NDCP) and to bring out a gazetted notification confirming that India’s copyright law allows for import and export of accessible books so that persons with print disabilities have access to over 650,000 accessible books available in International libraries. Chapter 4 summarises these recommendations prioritising the accessibility of technologies used for providing Covid related information. The paper also recommends implementation of Telecom Regulatory Authority of India’s TRAI recommendations to the Government, starting with setting up the inter-ministerial committee on ICT accessibility at the earliest.

The key recommendations of the paper summarised in Chapter 4 are as follows:

  1. Integration and implementation of the DiDRR Guidelines within the Covid-19 response system
  2. Set up inter-ministerial steering committee to recommend and help implement accessibility measures within the Government and other stakeholders as recommended by TRAI
  3. Time-bound action plan to drive compliance with GIGW guidelines
    • Identification and prioritisation of the key government and private websites and apps used to monitor and provide Covid-19 related relief and assistance and make them GIGW compliant
    • Engage Service providers and institutions involved in education, entertainment, shopping and healthcare to create accessible ICT infrastructure and offerings
    • Develop a timeline with action plan for GIGW 2.0 compatibility, with a longer-term initiative to monitor compliance of all government websites and apps
  4. Adoption and notification of Telecom accessibility standards by TEC and inclusion in certification criteria for telecom devices and products manufactured/ procured/ sold in India
  5. Expedite the adoption and notification of accessible ICT procurement standard by MeitY
  6. Inclusion of ICT Accessibility in the Universal Service Charter:
    • Universal Service charter be expanded to include persons with disabilities and other vulnerable groups as beneficiaries, both in rural as well as urban areas
    • The assistance provided by the USOF may include assistive technologies, devices, content, skilling, and services required to make complete digital inclusion and empowerment of these groups possible
  7. Promote adoption of Assistive Technologies and accessibility to drive greater broadband adoption amongst persons with disabilities and promote digital inclusion in line with the NDCP’s objectives [NDCP, 2018; Clause 1.4a(ii)]
  8. Ensure accessibility of all Covid-related information being broadcast through media as per accessibility standards notified by MIB
  9. Remove copyright barriers to accessible digital content through issuance of a gazetted notification that confirms permissibility of import and export of accessible-format books

The paper goes on to note that executing these actions on priority will provide some much-needed relief for persons with disabilities, and offer a significant boost to the ‘Digital India’ and ‘Make in India’ missions – resulting in increased GDP and socio-economic growth all around. India will be well on her way to achieving ‘Universal Connectivity for all’ – a central goal of the United Nations Secretary-General’s ‘Roadmap for Digital Cooperation’ 2020.

The paper was authored by Dr Nirmita Narasimhan, programme Director – Saksham  and Chair of BIF’s high level specialist committee on inclusion of persons with disabilities and co-authored by Ms Chandana Balasubramaniam, Principal Consultant, Research & Content, advisory@TVR.

The paper was jointly released over a virtual session by Dr. Malcolm Johnson, Deputy Secretary-General, ITU; Shri J S Deepak, Former Ambassador to WTO & Former Secretary – Department of Telecommunications (DoT), Ministry of Communications; Shri K Ramchand, Member (T), DoT; Shri H K Mahajan, DDG (SR & E), DoT and Shri Vinay Thakur, Chief Operating Officer, National eGovernance Division, Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY).

Press coverage related to the event can be found at:

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