A pregnancy detection kit, which shows coloured line/s for results, can become immediately accessible to a blind woman if it also has a beep sound. Nidhi Goyal, whose website ‘Rising Flame’ won the national award for the ‘Best Accessible Website 2019’, cites another example of inaccessible technology. “Most often, when online payment gateways (if they are accessible, that is) upgrade their version, their accessibility is broken and the pay buttons lose their labels. You know there are six buttons, but now they read only as buttons-buttons.”
Goyal, who is also the country’s first blind stand-up woman comedian, says: “So I have money in my account, but I still cannot make the payment. I am stuck till someone bails me out. Or, I simply have to give up.”
Independence, privacy, consent, dignity and a lot more are lost at several levels when technology or digital spaces – like physical spaces – are inaccessible to persons with disabilities. Discussions around it are happening, but then, Goyal says, “we have a long way to go”. “There are still rewards and awards for accessible websites when that shouldn’t be a category at all.”
The disability and gender rights activist has more personal experiences. She says she was introduced to a dating app by a friend some years ago who told her where the buttons of left and right swipes were. The app was apparently updated later, and Goyal ended up swiping people wrongly.
She adds: “Go to any ticket booking app. They all have captcha, which mostly have no audio options, and if they have they are clouded with a lot of noise. Likewise, banking apps are mostly inaccessible, and if they are accessible, they have major gaps.”
As part of her work, Goyal often has to travel long distance by air but is often unable to use a call bell on flights because many airlines have put it on touch screen panels.
The fact is that the of inaccessible websites and apps are too many to be counted, and the agony and exclusion they cause to the disabled are not part of conversations yet.
Goyal says there is a lack of universal design for accessible websites as people don’t look at the disabled as customers, buyers or decision-makers. “They don’t think we need to be employed or need financial management. They don’t think we need reproductive rights spaces, or that we will be running households, so we don’t need ovens that have tactile buttons, etc. With such behaviour, you are alienating a large chunk of the population, giving them lesser opportunities and more challenges.”
So what does an accessible website mean? It is a safe and welcoming space that visitors with disabilities can use with no hitch or bother, says Goyal. To develop one, the web developers and designers need to follow the web content accessibility guidelines (WCAG), which means taking measures like linking things, labelling buttons, having magnifying options, etc.
For Goyal, accessibility features in her website, which works for the rights of persons with disabilities with a focus on women and youth, were non-negotiable.
“Before the launch of Rising Flame over a year ago, we had thought through across disabilities. People with reading disabilities or dyslexia, any form of mental health disorder, mild autism spectrum are all able to access our website comfortably.” The website has tools to enhance fonts, change colour schemes. Every image and graphic has descriptions and alternate texts; every video carries subtitles.”
As a user of screenreader (software used by visually impaired people to navigate phones, laptops) herself, she says, while you see a logo, I hear and visualise it.
Goyal signs off with a simple, matter-of-fact statement. “To make a website accessible, you don’t need loads of money, just a commitment to make it such that everyone can use it, as it should be.”
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