Ever since Nirmita Narasimhan gave a colloquium on ICTs and disabilities at LIRNEasia in 2011, the topic has not been far from my mind. We included a component in the ongoing Myanmar project and are pushing hard to get assistive technologies into the policy discourse in that country.
But my inability to get a single mainstream newspaper to write a substantive article on Sri Lanka’s ratification of the International Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, despite personal emails to influential journalists, shows we have a ways to go.
It is in this context that I found this Indian article, originally published in a tech publication, Dataquest, of interest.
But experts such as Javed Abidi, Honorary Director of National Centre for Promotion of Employment for Disabled People (NCPEDP), feel that the issues facing the assistive technology market in India go much beyond that. “There are two critical elements that we need to understand – availability and affordability,” Abidi says, “And both have to be addressed simultaneously.” Kapoor agrees. She feels that the market needs to improve its range to boost availability of such solutions across the country. Once they become easily available to the public, simple supply-demand economics would suggest that the cost would naturally come down. But is it as simple as that? Kapoor draws the analogy with the mobile phone market. It started off as a niche market and today mobile phones are being used by a billion Indians. While it would seem that mobile phones have a greater universal appeal than assistive technology, this is far from the truth. “Predictive text was developed as a solution for people with communication difficulties. Today, it is a feature enjoyed across all segments of the population. Just imagine, if your television set had a voice based guidance mechanism would it not benefit people who cannot read along with people who have visual impairments?” Kapoor adds. The universal appeal of assistive technology solution is something that sadly, neither the policy makers nor the technology industry have understood. And it is in this context that the disability sector fears that it will be left behind as India embarks on a new development agenda led by initiatives like Digital India, Start Up India, and Make in India.