Aarogya Setu remains out of bounds for the disabled, particularly the visually impaired, even as the government insists on its usage and several activists and NGOs have already flagged that the Covid-19 contact-tracing app is inaccessible to people with disabilities.
Vice-President, National Blind Association, Dipendra Manocha said: “If you exclude the disabled population from something as critical as this, you are putting not only them but the entire population at risk. It can have a huge impact on the government’s Covid response.”
At the same time, disability rights activist Ketan Kothari, who is visually impaired, said: “My skepticism about its utility aside, even if I want to use Aarogya Setu, I cannot. I have installed it in my phone but it is lying unused because I can barely navigate it. The government, as it happens all the time, did not bother to add accessibility features in the application.”
The government launched the Aarogya Setu application more than six weeks ago. With the use of a phone‘s bluetooth and location data, it lets users know if they were near a person with Covid-19 after scanning a database of reported cases of infection.
“So far, I believe I am safe, as I am home and I don’t live in a containment zone. But as and when people would start going out, the app could possibly help,” added Kothari.
The Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act 2016 makes it mandatory for the government to provide all information in accessible formats for the benefit of the People with Disabilities (PwD).
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“Each one of them found it inaccessible, which is a clear violation of the RPwD Act, 2016,” she said.
She added that a report of the findings of the testing was sent to the Social Justice Ministry’s Department of Empowerment of PwD (DEPwD).
Manocha, too, also carried out tests of the app on Android phones and sent a report about it to the DEPwD so as to address the shortcomings.
DEPwD, on April 27, wrote to the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology and the app developer, the National Informatics Centre, about the app being inaccessible and also suggested that Manocha’s help could be taken in this regard.
The Ministry pointed out that “the app needs to have a separate section with specific information for persons with hearing impairment with sign language interpretation/close captioning. So far as persons with visual impairment are concerned, provision for audio guide for navigation, audio description of colour used, proper colour contrast etc. need to be incorporated”.
Three weeks after the DEPwD letter, Manocha said he is not in the know if there has been any movement in the Ministry. “It’s not a complicated app. It can be made accessible easily as it has only 5-6 screens. All you need is intent,” he said.
Agarwal, who is also a member of the Standing Committee of Niti Aayog, said she is hopeful that the government will act soon, though she adds: “It has to be underlined that an app has to be made accessible at the procurement stage itself. It should not be done so as an afterthought.”
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