Internet improving lives of persons with disabilities

Interview of Arun Mehta, President,, by Panini Anand, BBC

Panini: There is no doubt that Internet has provided a modernimage low-cost, fast and world-class network to major part of the world with a means of communication to access information, learn, understand. Yet more than 10% of the population in the world consists of people who are unaware of these means of communication. I am talking about the population which is disabled or mentally challenged.

Arun: I believe that they have a different way looking and doing things. we should understand different abilities in them instead of considering them as disabled.

The earlier means of communication like newspaper, radio, Television assume that everybody can listen, can see, have two normal hands, can turn pages of a newspaper.

Under such a scenario, computer is totally a different kind of medium. If you are visually challenged, no issues, you could listen to what the visual is about. You can work with a single button or such similar facility, in case the hands are disabled enough to use a keyboard or a mouse. You can operate the computer with your eyes, with one or two buttons, or through your mind. Facility for automatic captioning has developed for persons with problem in hearing. Computer can also do translation to different languages.

Our aim is to find how Internet and Computer can help making lives better for such persons and how this very effective medium can help people living in such challenging situations.

A Great Example

Here I would like to give example of well known scientist, physician and Writer Prof. Stephen Hawking. He is a great personality, but for him  
everything is made possible through a one button device. We have the privilege to met him and work for him.

The software with which Prof. Hawking works is called Equalizer. This is operated through one button. He can type from one button and this software has an option to read out the typed-in text. Computer gives voice to what he has written.

His software runs on a 20 year old hardware, which is not being manufactured anymore. The voice will be gone if the hardware gets damaged.

What we did was that we made a better support system for his software using modern technology so that if for some reason his system stops working, his speech and writing would not be affected.

imageFor us the matter is not limited to Prof. Hawking only. Our effort is to make support systems for lot of other people who are living with similar kind of disabilities.

Disabilities are of many kinds and this poses a big challenge. For different kind of disability different software would be required. Not only this, the requirements also increase as the person grows in age.

Role of Internet

When I returned to India on the 80s, I faced a sort of disability because I could not access much information on computers as I required. I am a Consultant and that also increased my worries, like where should I go to increase my knowledge, who should I ask. The first thing that Internet did was, we got a lot of information in various forms that we required.

Now our work in how to forward the information which we received to other people.

In many places people are using skype and other chat websites to communicate their messages to others. People have also experimented teaching Carnatic music and Shashtriya Sangeet through the Internet. Persons with disability can also do the work which is being outsourced. The difference between the disabled and normal person disappear on a computer.

No concrete efforts

United Nations has formulated a document called the UN Convention for Rights of Persons With Disabilities, which is a very good document. Many countries across the world have adopted this.  But, it is not being followed properly. Actually, our government has not implemented it properly in its affairs and processes. One have to struggle so that any kind of service to reach the people.

The disabled are not involved in policies for themselves when government drafts these.

We urge that Government should amend the whole process. To include them policy formulation, in approving any infrastructure. Disability should be given due importance, similar to the way a software is tested before it is adopted.