New Delhi: Despite India’s various e-governance initiatives, government websites are still inaccessible to citizens with disabilities, barring one recent example.
The ministry of social justice and empowerment last month revamped its website by following global norms of universal accessibility set down by the World Wide Web Consortium.
Universally accessible websites are those that allow people with disabilities access online content without difficulty, with help from easily available, specialized software.
With the penetration of Internet and availability of wide range of information technology (IT) devices, it is likely that government websites are the first point of interface between citizens and the administration.
“We believe it is the right of the person with disability to have an unhindered access to information and knowledge,” said Mukul Wasnik, minister for social justice and empowerment. “We sought to lead by example by being the first government ministry to make our website special, people-friendly.”
The website, www.socialjustice.nic.in, allows visually impaired people, such as those with colour blindness or limited vision, to easily navigate the content. It also provides on its home page links to free software that enables the blind to access the site.
“It is easy and a blessing for people with blindness,” said Dependra Manocha, who is visually challenged and associated with Saksham, a charitable trust that works for the empowerment of persons with disabilities.
The accessibility features in the ministry’s website include alternate text for images, flexible text spacing and size and liberal use of easily understood icons for slow learners, options to skip links, and videos with transcripts, said Neeta Verma, senior technical director at National Informatics Centre, the government’s Web services organization.
Verma and her team played a key role in helping the ministry design and implement the revamp.
The website has also been designed in a way that it can be navigated entirely through a keyboard, aimed at people who have difficulty in using a mouse, she said.
Although activists working for rights for the disabled welcomed the ministry’s initiative, they said much more needs to be done.
“We talk of the IT age and think of the country to be in the information highway, but of the more than 5,000-odd public sector websites, only one has till now come forward to make a beginning,” said Javed Abidi, honorary director, National Centre for Promotion of Employment for the Disabled. “In a vibrant democracy like India, the physically challenged cannot approach vital sites like that of the Information Commission, Parliament or the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO).”
Disabled people staged a large demonstration to voice their rights on world disability day on 3 December 2008 and some representatives were asked to visit PMO for discussions, said the wheelchair-bound Abidi. PMO subsequently instructed the communications ministry to prepare guidelines for government websites to be universally accessible.
“It took a year after the guidelines were laid down for the first universally accessible website to see the light of the day. The rest seem to be unresponsive,” Abidi said. “We have submitted a list of 50 important public utility websites to the government but none of them have responded yet.”