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Archive for the ‘GEEKABLE’ Category

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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Ever wondered how a person with a visual impairment uses a computer? Surf the web? Read a book or an article? I know many people who shy away from asking these questions. The important thing is to realise that there’s no harm in asking these questions. The real harm is in not bothering to find the answers to these questions. A request to our visually impaired readers: please pass this article on to all your sighted friends. And dear sighted readers, walk with me through this simple simulation of the experience of a visually impaired person.

The most popular, specialized software program used by people with visual impairments to consume electronic content – documents, web pages and other computer programs is a type of computer software known as a screen reader. The screen reader has two major functions – Navigation and Text-to-Speech (TTS).

A screen reader aids in navigation by guiding the user in moving from one page to the other, from one paragraph to the other and so on. It aids in TTS by converting electronic text to sound – basically it reads out text. The biggest stumbling block for screen reader software are programs and content that is difficult for navigation.
 
A large majority of computer programs and electronic content that are used by the visually impaired, are created by sighted people – programmers, content writers, editors etc. If you happen to fall into this category of very powerful people, and if you are unfamiliar with screen readers, I would definitely encourage you to try this little experiment. Now, if you don’t, you might still want to do it – because it can open your eyes a little bit into an unfamiliar world. All you need is a computer, working eyes and an old newspaper.

Here you go:

  1. Turn on your computer
  2. Browse to Google news or your favorite online haunt OR open a large word document
  3. Now get an old newspaper – take one full sheet and open it up
  4. Make a rectangular incision 3 inches long and half inch wide at the center of the paper
  5. With both hands, hold this newspaper against and in front of your computer display, so that you can see the screen through the rectangular hole
  6. Now start reading through the hole. Move the paper to the right to continue reading
  7. Try to jump to sections that you are interested in by moving the paper around
  8. Read the whole page
  9. Rinse and repeat with familiar and unfamiliar pages
  10. That’s it.

Hope you enjoyed the experience 🙂 .. Now we need some feedback from you:

  1. How easy was it to find something that you are looking to read?
  2. What would have made it easier to find what you were looking for?
  3. Is the experience different between familiar and unfamiliar pages?
  4. How would you change the design of your document/site/application after your experience of carrying out this experiment?

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Update as on May 1, 2010

 

After our last post on the Right to Read campaign on April 15th the copyright amendment was introduced in the Rajya Sabha on April 19th. The bad news is that the amendment still contained the same disastrous wording which would effectively prevent NGOs, educational institutions and persons with disabilities from converting reading material including textbooks and reference material into audio, digital formats and other formats that can be used by persons with disabilities to “read” such material. The extremely cumbersome, restrictive and lengthy licensing procedure proposed by the Government for conversion to these formats would mean that students with print disabilities would be deprived of their Right to Education which has now become a fundamental right.

Now for the good news. The BJP and the Left parties have gone on record  <!–[endif]–>that they will oppose the amendment unless the concerns of the visually impaired community are addressed. Members of the National Access Alliance including Sam Taraporevala, Kanchan Pamnani, S.K Rungta, Dipendra Manocha and Ketan Kothari met senior leaders of the BJP including Shri L.K. Advani, Shri Arun Jaitely and Smt. Sushma Swaraj who understood our concerns and were extremely sympathetic. Nirmita Narasimhan from the Centre for Internet and Society <!–[if !supportFootnotes]–> and I met Smt. Brinda Karat who was extremely sympathetic and supportive. Mrs. Karat spent close to an hour understanding the issues involved and fixed up a meeting for us with Shri. Oscar Fernandes, Congress MP and head of the standing committee that will examine the copyright amendment. She also informed us that she has spoken to Mr. Arun Jaitely on this issue and that they would jointly oppose the amendment. Shri Fernandes was also extremely sympathetic and supportive and assured us that we would get an opportunity to be heard when the matter came up for discussion. We also met two members of the standing committee Mr. Biju (CPI (M) MP from Kerala) and Mr. Penumalli Madhu (CPI (M) MP from Andhra Pradesh). Mr. Biju said he would definitely help when this matter comes up for discussion since he believed it is a just cause. Mr. Madhu was even more receptive to the idea and said he would circulate the note which we had given to all the members of the Standing Committee and also write a letter strongly recommending this
case to the Prime Minister and the Standing Committee.

Mr. Javed Abidi, India’s most famous and accomplished disability rights activist, took Nirmita and me to the Prime Minister’s Office where we met Joint Secretary Mr. Sanjay Mitra who promised to put our note to the Prime Minister.

 

Last but not least, over the last 2 weeks this initiative has got some great press coverage from socially conscious journalists from around the country. We now have to prepare for submitting evidence to the standing committee when the hearings start. We understand that this will happen within the next 3 months. Let us keep our fingers crossed. If you would like to contribute to this effort mail me at rahul.cherian@inclusiveplanet.com

Update as on May 1, 2010

 

After our last post on the Right to Read campaign on April 15th the copyright amendment was introduced in the Rajya Sabha on April 19th. The bad news is that the amendment still contained the same disastrous wording which would effectively prevent NGOs, educational institutions and persons with disabilities from converting reading material including textbooks and reference material into audio, digital formats and other formats that can be used by persons with disabilities to “read” such material. The extremely cumbersome, restrictive and lengthy licensing procedure proposed by the Government for conversion to these formats would mean that students with print disabilities would be deprived of their Right to Education which has now become a fundamental right.

Now for the good news. The BJP and the Left parties have gone on the record that they will oppose the amendment unless the concerns of the visually impaired community are addressed. Members of the National Access Alliance including Sam Taraporevala, Kanchan Pamnani, S.K Rungta, Dipendra Manocha and Ketan Kothari met senior leaders of the BJP including Shri L.K. Advani, Shri Arun Jaitely and Smt. Sushma Swaraj who understood our concerns and were extremely sympathetic.  Nirmita Narasimhan from the Centre for Internet and Society and I met Smt. Brinda Karat who extremely sympathetic and supportive. Mrs. Karat spent close to an hour understanding the issues involved and fixed up a meeting for us with Shri. Oscar Fernandes, Congress MP and head of the standing committee that will examine the copyright amendment. She also informed us that she has spoken to Mr. Arun Jaitely on this issue and that they would jointly oppose the amendment. Shri Fernandes was also extremely sympathetic and supportive and assured us that we would get an opportunity to be heard when the matter came up for discussion. We also met two members of the standing committee Mr. Biju (CPI (M) MP from Kerala) and Mr. Penumalli Madhu (CPI (M) MP from Andhra Pradesh). Mr. Biju said he would definitely help when this matter comes up for discussion since he believed it is a just cause. Mr. Madhu was even more receptive to the idea and said he would circulate the note which we had given to all the members of the Standing Committee and also write a letter strongly recommending this
case to the Prime Minister and the Standing Committee.

Mr. Javed Abidi, India’s most famous and accomplished disability rights activist, took Nirmita and me to the Prime Minister’s Office where we met Joint Secretary Mr. Sanjay Mitra who promised to put our note to the Prime Minister.

 

Last but not least, over the last 2 weeks this initiative got some great press coverage from socially conscious journalists from around the country. We now have to prepare for submitting evidence to the standing committee when the hearings start. We understand that this will happen within the next 3 months. Let us keep our fingers crossed. If you would like to contribute to this effort mail me at rahul.cherian@inclusiveplanet.com

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We may not have a problem building a few ramps in movie theatres and malls or reserving desk-jobs. But what about areas where the average person has long held a monopoly? Or areas where we may feel disabled persons cannot be ‘accommodated’ easily. Like the army. We seem to be unwilling to even let disabled students apply to a military school. Should we draw the line here and designate some areas as ‘off-limits’ for such people? If we do, are they really equal citizens?

For the second time in ‘Geekable’, Vivek explores the meaning of equality in the context of disabled persons. This time, he takes a closer look at the issue of admitting disabled persons into military schools. Agree or disagree…your comments would make this debate more interesting.

(more…)

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Moiz talks about his own experience of growing up with visual impairment and makes a case for addressing the needs of print-impaired persons through the language of rights. Should the Right to Read extend beyond copyright law?

After reading this post, you may agree, disagree or have something to contribute. Wherever you stand, we welcome your comments, suggestions and arguments – so do participate!

(more…)

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The Lok Sabha, on 4th August 2009, passed the ‘Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education’ Bill. Kapil Sibal, the HRD minister, promised that this Bill, a historic step, would be his signature reform initiative in the first 100 days of the Government.

Disability rights activists across the country feel, however, that the Bill excludes from its purview the country’s 30 million differently-abled children. Their expectation from the Right to Education Bill was very simple – make education inclusive for the differently-abled by integrating them into the mainstream schooling system. The rationale being, that the protected environment in a special school would not equip the children to face real world challenges.

The disability activists have two major areas of concern:-

  1. The bill has a wide definition for disadvantaged children, but does not specifically include differently-abled children; and
  2. The bill sets out minimum physical infrastructure requirements, but has no mention of specific infrastructure for the differently-abled

The activists led by Mr.Javed Abidi, voiced their concerns to the HRD Minister, and the prime minister, and it resulted in the UPA Convener Sonia Gandhi seeking a clarification from Mr. Sibal.

Mr. Sibal, in his speech, clarified that the disabled have not been excluded and that the Government was sensitive to their rights. In his words “In the definition about the child belonging to a disadvantaged group, when we frame the model rules we would like to ensure that all children suffering from whatever disabilities- and we will set it out in the model rules- must be part of the disadvantaged groups.” Although disability may not be a specifically mentioned in the definition, disabled children are entitled to an education as a matter of right. The obligation, he said, is on the state government to identify the disadvantaged groups within the state (this would naturally include the disabled) which require inclusive education into the system.

Sibal also noted that while the Persons With Disabilities (Equal Opportunities, Protection of Rights and Full Participation) Act, 1995 (PWD Act) does not include certain disabilities like autism in the definition of disability, and this definition was referred to in the bill, the PWD Act is in the process of amendment. Once the definition is amended, a wider super-set of the disabled would benefit under both the PWD Act as well as the Bill.

The Bill, like most things, is not even close to perfect. Yet the Government’s recognition of the need to educate the disabled is indeed a significant step, and one that must be welcomed by the community. It gives the disabled a foot in the door to inclusion into society. After all, the HRD Ministry has promised: “ So we intend, as a Government, because we are committed, to provide for the disabled facilities to ensure that they too have a right to lead a full life to the extent that it is possible…  That is the commitment of this Government to the Nation“.

Hopefully, the model rules will be framed through a consultation process with stakeholders and the concerns of the differently-abled will be addressed. And finally, it would be the old bugbear, implementation, which will decide on whether the Bill would indeed be what UNICEF considers a “great opportunity for India” or just another gazette notification.

Priyanka Shelat*

Guest Blogger for Inclusive Planet

*Priyanka is a corporate lawyer working with a leading law firm, and is our first guest blogger!

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