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Archive for June, 2010

We are glad to tell you that Inclusive Planet has been accredited as an observer to the WIPO – World Intellectual Property Organization.

Rahul Cherian is present at the Standing Committee on Copyright and Related Rights happening at the moment in Switzerland.

Following is the statement of Inclusive Planet, India on the matter of the Treaty for the Blind, Visually Impaired and other Reading Disabled, proposed by Brazil, Ecuador, Mexico  and Paraguay.

June 21, 2010

Mr. Chairman, distinguished delegates and ladies and gentlemen , I thank the WIPO Secretariat for processing our accreditation to the WIPO as an observer and the decision of this Committee to accredit my organization. I represent Inclusive Planet Foundation, a non profit organisation based in India, focusing on policy reform in the disability space as a part of which we have been campaigning in India for appropriate amendments to Indian copyright law to create exceptions and limitations to enable persons with disabilities to access material in alternate formats. Our sister organisation, a for profit organization runs Inclusivelanet.com, one of the fastest growing social networks for persons with visual impairment, with users from 80 countries. Inclusive Planet’s Services division provides technology solutions and consultancy to organisations related to web and content accessibility.

Mr. Chairman, Inclusive Planet Foundation believes that the Treaty proposed by Brazil, Ecuador, Mexico and Paraguay is essential to improve the lives of the millions of persons with disabilities in India and we are extremely supportive of the Treaty for the following reasons:

1. Firstly, We believe that in India and other developing countries where large funding for conversion and distribution is not available, and where there are no institutional intermediaries with the kind of reach, infrastructure and financial support as the intermediaries in the US and Europe, all stakeholders including NGOs, educational institutions, libraries, persons with disabilities , parents and volunteers must be allowed to convert and distribute and import and export material in accessible formats. The Treaty proposed by Brazil, Ecuador, Mexico and Paraguay allows for this. Any proposal which limits these activities only to intermediaries that have the support of rightholders will not be of any great benefit to India or other developing countries.

2. Secondly, We believe it is important that persons with hearing impairment and persons with other disabilities who need alternate formats must not be discriminated against and be left behind. The Treaty proposed by Brazil, Ecuador, Mexico and Paraguay covers not only persons with print disabilities but also persons with other disabilities who require alternate formats. Other proposals in the table have also good definitions of beneficiaries. We believe that any proposal which extends only to persons with print disabilities will be unjust.

3. Thirdly, We believe that non-commercial conversion and distribution should not require payment to rights holders keeping in mind the cost and effort taken in such conversion and distribution. We also believe that rights holders must be compensated for commercial conversion and distribution. The Treaty proposed by Brazil, Ecuador, Mexico and Paraguay provides for these two options. We believe that this system will incentivize rights holders to convert and sell material in accessible formats at affordable prices, which we believe is the only long term solution to solving the book famine.

4. Lastly, We believe that for-profit entities who wish to undertake conversion on a not-for-profit basis must be permitted to do so. It has been our experience in India that large corporations wish to convert material into accessible formats as part of their corporate social responsibility initiatives on a non-commercial basis. This must be encouraged. The Treaty proposed by Brazil, Ecuador, Mexico and Paraguay provides for this. We believe that any proposal that does not recognize the roles that can be played by for-profit entities is limited and will not contribute to long term solutions.

In short Mr. Chairman, the ground realities in India and other developing countries are completely different from those in the United States and in Europe. In India and other developing countries, people with disabilities need all the help we can get, from all parties willing to help. Any proposal that recognizes only intermediaries as part of the solution will be of extremely limited impact in India. We believe that the Treaty for the Blind, Visually Impaired and other Reading Disabled, proposed by Brazil, Ecuador, Mexico and Paraguay is THE proposal which addresses the needs of persons with disabilities in developing countries. We urge member states to support the treaty proposed by Brazil, Ecuador, Mexico and Paraguay if any meaningful change is to be made to the lives of millions of persons with disabilities around the world and especially in developing countries including India.

To read more about the other treaties, see Comparison of the four proposals on disabilities at WIPO SCCR.

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For the technology practitioner who works in the area of getting her solutions to work well for a diverse audience, there are a few related but often ambiguous terms that float around. Accessibility, usability, design …

For those of us who are particularly concerned about ensuring that web applications fit the needs of an audience with different faculties, there are a set of standards that are laid out that presumably will tell us how to do this. The question often comes up – is it worth the effort following standards like the W3C WCAG standard? There is a profusion of articles on the web that detail how standards compliance can be achieved and there are organizations who will help you, the web asset owner, get to standards compliance. What is often not that clear is the question of – what will WCAG compliance do for my users? How will my web asset benefit from this exercise? Does WCAG compliance mean that ALL users can use my web site ‘equitably’?

Focusing on the WCAG standard as an example, the standards body has stated that the goal of defining “how to make Web content more accessible to people with disabilities”. The standards body has decided, I believe consciously, to not precisely define accessibility. Also note the comparative term “more accessible” is chosen instead of a more absolute or superlative term. There is an air of tentativeness, which again, I would think, is a conscious choice.

There are a few more factors to consider:

  1. Standards, in its final form often represent less than the state of the art in technology due to the long life cycle of the standards process itself. This is also clear from the facts that often even as a particular standard is in the stages of approval, work on the next standards commences.
  2. Standards bodies often need to come up with a least common denominator in its specification and in the interest of expediency, generally have to choose to ignore complicated or controversial issues.
  3. Some of the issues related to accessibility, are so entwined in issues of usability and design, that it is difficult to make concrete standards without making assumptions about the nature of use of the system, the faculty set of the user and other environmental factors. In the continuum of accessibility-usability-design, the standards are only able to address the safe generalities than the highly variable specifics.

The points above should not be read as criticisms of standards, but merely as an observation of the facts.

Now, switching over to the practice side, take the classic cases where a web or digital asset owner takes the steps towards ensuring diversity. She is often driven by one or more of the following:

  • Social and values based reasons– CSR for companies, social pressure for individuals
  • I care about diversity, and want to make sure that there are no barriers in my organization for people with a non-standard set of faculties
  • I have a digital asset and want to come across to others as someone who cares about diversity
  • Regulatory and Legal
  • I need to comply to the accessibility rules/regulations/laws of my country/state/association in relation to and if I don’t there is a possible negative consequence
  • Commercial
  • I or one of my customers have or will have an audience or customers that is diverse and needs accessibility
  • I or one of my customers need to show some others that we are accessible so that we can get some new business
  • I or one of my customers deal exclusively with a segment that have a non-standard set of faculties that have accessibility implications and our offering needs to be precisely tailored for them

Consider the various cases above. While clearly not an exhaustive treatment of all possible cases, you can see 2 significant flavors:

  1. I need to convince a certain constituency that my digital asset is accessible
  2. I need to make my digital asset as accessible, usable and appropriate as possible to one or more specific class of users with non-standards faculties.

In both these cases, standards compliance is a requirement. For case 2 above, however, the asset owner would be ill-advised to stop at standards compliance and should consider additional steps to put forth the best possible offering – from accessibility, usability and design standpoints for the specific audience(s) in mind.

So here goes the stake in the ground:

We believe that standards compliance is a necessary but not sufficient condition for ensuring best possible levels of accessibility.

We do believe that current standards ensure a high degree of accessibility. However, we believe that there are additional steps that can and should be taken to allow a person with a non-standard set of faculties the best possible experience with a web site or application.

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