The Need for Inclusive e-Governance for the Differently-Abled

Around 15% of the global population, that is roughly 1 billion people worldwide, live with disabilities. Disability in a broader sense, encompasses people with limited mobility, limitations in activity, or hearing/vision impairment and as per the 2011 census, nearly 2.68 crore people in India are differently abled. In India, there is a pressing need for larger investment in disabled-friendly infrastructure, both in terms of public spaces as well as communication technology. For Persons with Disabilities (PwDs), the issues of universal accessibility are not only crucial for gaining equal opportunity and leading an independent life but also, to be able to participate in all spheres of society in a more inclusive manner. The marginalization and exclusion of PwDs is a human-rights, as well as an economic issue. Breaking traditional barriers of communication/interaction, digital technologies, can now provide access to information for the differently abled. The increasing confluence of public and private service provisions via ICT and the growth of mainstream ICTs, that can be utilized as accessible devices is continually changing the paradigm of technology-driven development and access for PwDs. Especially in the relatively new field of e-Governance, earlier divides with traditional models may persist, while at the same time new challenges may be created when ICT-enabled development is not accessible for the differently abled, which may lead to an uneven distribution of citizen benefits. The Need for Inclusive e-Governance: Accessible e-governance is important to ensure civic and social inclusion of PwDs. An increased transition in government services, records etc. to a digital framework can help the differently abled have an independent/autonomous interface with government services/offices. Barriers to technological access are a pervasive phenomenon for people with special needs and may cause a significant reduction in user adoption, for offered e-governance services. Though the barriers are variable between different groups with different sets of disadvantages, PwDs, do tend to face difficulties in particular, in obtaining maximum benefits from new electronic content/services. In the past, the issue of accessibility for PwDs when it comes to the development of ICTs has been generally neglected. The lack of understanding regarding disabilities has led to inherent problems when talking about the shaping of new/existent technologies. This has often resulted, in individuals resisting availing/using particular e-Governance services, which depending on the severity of their disabilities, they can only access with the help of appropriate assistive technologies. It is not only the demand-side issues that prevent higher levels of e-governance adoption among the differently-abled, in fact, studies have revealed a very low level of accessibility across government websites. This failure to provide content in a manner, so as to not exclude PwDs has often been criticized, that e-governance initiatives tend to favour access to users/citizens who are already privy to other forms of technology-based government interactions. Taking affirmative steps in the direction of social inclusivity, the Government of India launched the ‘Accessible India’ campaign, with the aim of providing equal opportunities and access to PwDs, which can assist them in leading productive, safe and dignified lives On this front, ITL has been working on e-governance services in Naya Raipur, to help build a bridge between Naya Raipur Development Authority, and its citizens, via secure communication/information exchange. The e-governance application is a single window interface for various NRDA services and is designed to serve all the public at large by providing a multilingual interface (Hindi as well as English data entry), and enabling features to guide the visually-disabled to fill online applications and also facilitate surfing at the portal. With the government taking strides towards a more ICT-oriented governance with flagship mission-mode programs such as Digital India and Smart-Cities Mission etc. new directives for e-governance portals are now ensuring that measures are taken for inclusive accessibility for the differently abled. This comes as a much-needed step so as to promote enhanced user adoption and to ensure a better quality of life for them and to make sure that inclusive e-governance becomes a good governance benchmark for the future.

Author: Chhavi Jain, Vice President


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