Widening the Net' 02 Series Seminar on "Universal Web Accessibility - Building Digital Ramps"
Press Release – Wednesday, 20th November 2002
More information is available at: http://www.enablingdimensions.com/Seminar/default.asp?Image=images\topbar.jpg&ChannelNo=2
Enabling Dimensions India organized a seminar on Wednesday, to create awareness about universal web accessibility amongst a select audience of representatives from government, private and non-government organisations. The seminar was convened by Dr. M. M. Pant, former Pro Vice chancellor of IGNOU, and presided by Prof. Shintaro Ishijima, President, Tokyo Metropolitan Institute of Technology, who is visiting Delhi as the Chairman, Asian Distance Learning System. The seminar was aimed at sensitizing the audience about the need for equal access to electronic information and the socio-legal, business and technical aspects of this issue.
In his inaugural address Dr. M. M. Pant presented an overview of the issue. He said “ In the knowledge economy, physical abilities have a lesser role to play rather it is the intellectual and creative abilities of the individual that would be of greater significance.” Highlighting the problem of inaccessible websites, Dr. Pant explained how with the increasing use of graphics and multimedia, websites are becoming inaccessible. He said " Inaccessible web content is denial of information and opportunities required to improve the quality of life." Highlighting the benefits of developing accessible web-content Dr. Pant said " When we are talking about web-design for the disabled, we are talking about everyone. The reach of such content goes far beyond this community, for example audio-content developed for visually-challenged can be used to reach out to millions of illiterate people in rural areas." He pointing towards the W3C/WAI web accessibility guidelines, to show that standards already exist for web developers to make accessible web sites.
Prof. Shintaro Ishijima, described how developing web content for the disabled is relevant for others, by illustrating how language-barriers encountered by people in a foreign country is a disability similar to the learning-challenged or the illiterate. In his concluding remarks, Prof. Ishijima, said “If I had missed this seminar I would have missed very important information on accessibility and its impact on distance learning programmes.” He said that “Universal web accessibility is most essential for good quality of life. It is our duty to provide an easy way to access quality education, and this is highly relevant in the context of the distance learning project that we are working upon.”
Mr. Prakash Kumar, IT secretary, Delhi Government, informed the audience that Delhi government was one of the six states to have enforced the Right to Information Act, and that it recognizes the right of every citizen to access the information. Speaking about the initiatives taken by the Delhi Government in providing information to the public suo moto, 40 websites have been developed to provide information on various aspect of governance “We will be making these websites accessible” he said. Mr. Kumar also spoke about the challenges in using Internet extensively in the light of lack of preparedness of the various departments and lack of skilled people in these departments in handling emails and online requests. He announced that “we will start with social welfare department to make their website compatible with the W3C guidelines.”
Ms. Anjali Arora, the first visually-challenged Supreme Court lawyer, spoke on the issue of legal provision and support for the disabled in the context of web accessibility in India. She said “There is no debate on whether or not legal right to web content should be provided, it ought to be provided to all.” She compared the provisions of People with Disabilities Act, 1995 with those provided in American with Disabilities Act to highlight the inadequacies of the act in the context of changing technological development taking place, such as Internet, computers, etc. She enumerated various barriers to information for disabled persons in their daily lives such as printed bills, inaccessible online forms, inaccessible ATMs, Online Railway Reservation System etc. She said that the main problem is that the act does not guarantee full-participation by the disabled person. “My self-reliance on my tools and equipment is the best for the society in general. By making me dependent not only is the system wasting its resources, it is also depriving me of the opportunities for availing various government and marketing schemes, employment opportunities, etc. The only way to do this by making information available electronically and in a completely accessible format.”
Presenting the end-user perspective Charu Jadav, visually-challenged National Chess Champion, spoke about the challenges faced by differently-abled in accessing electronic information. He also demonstrated the how the visually-challenged use computers by displaying some chess moves “I remember every move of a game and record it after coming back”. He said “Everyone has limitations and they work around them. Like that the disabled also have some limitation and we are also trying. Web accessibility will be a great help to us.”
Mr. Arun Mehta of Radiophony spoke about the software that his company is developing for Prof. Stephen Hawkins and the challenges faced in this process. Mr. Mehta said “in addressing the problem of such extreme form of disability, we have learnt the challenges for specific disabilities.” Mr. Mehta announced “We would like to start an institute with a large proportion of students having physical disabilities, and here we will like to combine the electronic and mechanical engineering disciplines to develop low cost access devices.”
In his closing address, Dr. Pant announced several steps that will be taken to further this. 'We will be setting up a larger group of organisations to further the cause of equal access to electronic information. We are also organizing a training workshop for web developers to educate them how to develop accessible websites on the occasion of World Disability Day. We will also be approaching IT secretaries of various state governments to ensure that at least the government websites are accessible.
About Enabling Dimensions
Enabling Dimensions (www.enablingdimensions.com) has its development center in New Delhi, India and Regional Headquarters in Singapore. It is modeled on social-entrepreneurship and provides web solutions that enable the disabled and the elderly use the Internet more easily and effectively. Its services include developing accessible web content, training on web accessibility, developing disabled friendly e-Learning courseware and research and promotion of web accessibility standards. Enabling Dimensions objective is to "make the web a disabled friendly place."
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