Rahul Cherian, 36, co-founder and policy head of Inclusive Planet, is an alumnus of National Law School of India University (NLSIU), Bangalore. He is also a specialist in copyright law and a disability policy activist. He was running his own law firm in Chennai until Inclusive Planet happened.
Sachin Malhan, 31, co-founder and CEO of Inclusive Planet, is another NLSIU alumnus, and co-founder of two companies: Law School Tutorials, an outfit to prepare students for legal entrance examinations, with centres in around 50 cities, and Rainmaker, a talent management services firm for the legal industry, which he led until March 2008.
Fully visible: Malhan (left) and Jacob (extreme right) with employees of Inclusive Planet at the company’s Bangalore office. Aniruddha Chowdhury/Mint
Reuben Jacob, 35, co-founder and chief technology officer for Inclusive Planet, is the CEO of Acrodelon Technologies, a technology incubation company based in Kochi. Cherian and Malhan know each other from their NLSIU days, while Jacob is Cherian’s friend from school.
These three form the core of the founding team.
Cherian participated in a conference of the World Blind Union in Washington, DC, in 2008. One of the items on the agenda was drafting an international treaty to make it binding for governments to make reading material accessible to the blind, the print-impaired (i.e., those who can see but cannot easily make sense of words and text) and those with visual disabilities. Indeed, a majority of the members at the gathering were themselves print-impaired. Cherian thought a consistent interface was necessary if serious change had to be brought about. The meet was inconclusive but Cherian came out with ideas. “That’s when it struck me,” he recalls. “‘How do visually disabled people use technology?’” He came back and brainstormed with a few friends, who would go on to form the company called Inclusive Planet.
Launched in October 2009, Inclusive Planet’s USP is to make information via the Internet accessible to those who are visually challenged. It does this by making visual information (such as written text) available in audio files. The website enables the visually impaired to find, share and access materials such as books and documents relevant to their study or leisure material, in formats amenable to them. It has around 4,200 active members, from places such as Turkey, the US, Canada and Latin America.
On the website’s different message boards (called “channels”), you will find ongoing discussions on issues relating to those with visual disabilities—and a lot more. Topics can extend from “How do the sighted see you?” to “Myths about vision loss and blindness”, to casual subjects such as “The lighter side of disability”. People post comments on these channels and continue conversations while exchanging thoughts, information and banter.
One of the most popular channels on the website “Love, actually”, is something like Facebook for the visually disabled and print-impaired. There is no charge for using the site www.inclusiveplanet.com
Inclusive Planet raised money through contributions from well-known names in the field of technological entrepreneurship, such as Rajiv Kuchhal, former Infosys vice-president; Jawad Ayaz, technologist and serial entrepreneur; Kiran Gera, vice-president of the Saarc Chamber of Women Entrepreneurs Council; and Sandeep Farias, formerly country director of Unitus.
“Our focus is to create digital world accessibility for those who are visually challenged,” says Malhan. “But doing that is not easy, as there are many gaps that need to be addressed. For instance, how does one make the online information from websites communicable to the print-impaired? Within the information systems that exist, there is a gap of accessibility as far as the latter is concerned,” he adds.
For revenue, Inclusive Planet also started a services arm that develops customized software to make online information accessible to the visually disabled and print-impaired for companies.
“There was no Plan B. This just had to work!” insists Cherian.
Remain simple, accessible and relevant. “In future, we want to reach a stage where the site is in autopilot mode,” exhorts Malhan.