Overcoming Barriers Through Technology
December 2008

Overcoming Barriers Through Technology

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In today’s fast paced world, a person with disability is confronted with the barriers of mindset, infrastructure, education, and technology. The Techshare conference was conceived by the Royal National Institute for the Blind (RNIB) with the objective of breaking these  barriers and including people with disabilities into the mainstream.

The first Techshare India conference was organised in New Delhi in February this year to explore the entire gamut of assistive technology and also build bridges betweeen the government, private sector, and ngos on one hand and the disabled 60 million Indians on the other. In an effort to scale up the level of the conference, a Techshare roadshow was organised in Banglaore in August and in Mumbai on November 4.

Held on the premises of Ali Yavar Jung National Institute for the Hearing Handicapped, the day-long conference-cum-roadshow in Mumbai emphasised on the need to integrate persons with disabilities into the mainstream using assistive technologies while also implementing accessibility standards  and laws. It also highlighted the role of Ngos, private sector and educational institutions in making education and infrastructure accessible for PwDs to make them global citizens.

Creating An Inclusive Environment

Inaugurating the conference, Supriya Sule, Member of Parliament, Rajya Sabha, said, ‘Every citizen of India is a global citizen and has every right to education and basic accessible infrastructure.  We have to spread awareness and be sensitive to the needs of differently abled people and create an all-inclusive environment.’

‘It is imperative that assistive and accessible technologies are made available to PwDs in order to create an inclusive environment for them,’ urged Shilpi Kapoor, Managing Director, BarrierBreak Technologies, which hosted the event along with RNIB, UK. She emphasised on the commercial opportunity that the growing market of assistive technology represents and highlighted the need for business houses and the government to play a larger role in it. With the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in place, it is important for India to look at the implementation of these laws to create an inclusive society, Kapoor added.

As part of the inaugural programme, a ‘My Story’ session was held where people narrated their experiences of leading a norml life. Visually impaired Dharmarajan Iyer, works with the Forward Market Commission as a Deputy Director, and uses assistive technologies like the screen reader to perform his day-to-day tasks. Mobility impaired Jasmina Khanna is a software tester with Rheal Software Pvt Ltd. Suffering from cerebral palsy, she uses rack ball and Windows accessibility tools and settings such as Sticky Keys etc. Both believe that technology, if used efficiently, can make a huge difference in the lives of people with disabilities and make them a part of the mainstream society.

After the inaugural keynote, the sessions were divided into three parallel tracks, namely The Road Ahead – Envision the AccessibilityRoad Map, Making a Difference, and Bridging the Digital Divide. Among others who gave presentations included prominant people like Shilpi Kapoor, Elizabeth Kurian (Sight Savers International), Nina Screwvalla (Tata Consultancy Services), Sachin Verma (AccessAbility), Vickram Cishna (Radiophony), Dipendra Manocha (DAISY Forum of India) and Ketna mehta (Nina Foundation).

Experiential Lab

The main highlight of the event was the experiential lab that provided an opportunity to experience how people with disabilities lead an independent life. Some of the products exhibited at the lab included ergonomic keyboard and mice, Supernova – a powerful screen reader-cum-screen magnifier, Compact + – portable magnifier that helps people with low vision, Accessible Flash Games, and tools for children with learning disabilities

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