Techshare India debates if technology is doing enough for the differently-abled

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Techshare India debates if technology is doing enough for the differently-abled
In the case of a nation like India that is home to 70 million people with disabilities, the headway made in making technology accessible to them is far from significant. The fourth edition of Techshare India, which began on Thursday in New Delhi, is themed on addressing the issue of disability on a pan-India level.

Present for the inauguration of the event were Javed Abidi of The National Centre for Promotion of Employment for Disabled People (NCPEDP), organiser of the event and Ashoka Fellow Shilpi Kapoor, Stefan Sjöström Vice President Asia, Public Sector, Microsoft Corporation and Neil Heslop, Group Director, Royal National Institute of Blind People- UK (RNIB).

An important part of the discussions of Thursday was highlighting the Republic Day parade this year, which was sign-language enabled. Highlighting the importance of acceptance as a major step towards solving the problems of disabled people, Kapoor said that the market for disabilities is estimated at Rs 4500 crores in India. "Technology would play a major role in addressing the problems of the people," Kapoor said. "While there is a market in India, the major problem involved with reaching out to people is penetration into the market space."

"That is a big handicap for not only companies that are trying to bring the products but also to the people," Kapoor added. "It could be hearing and visual aids, gadgets that can be used by people with disabilities, software and a whole lot more. So the first challenge before reaching out to a lot of people is to take it one step at a time. The penetration problem has to be addressed in the metros and the tier-one and two cities first before we reach out to the rural areas."

The disability bill, which is yet to be passed, wants education to be accessible to all, will be a big plus in the right direction. Speaking about the same Abidi said, "The Bill stipulates that all content in audio, print and electronic media should be in accessible format (via audio description, close captioning, sign language interpretation). We hope that the bill passes and becomes a law soon."

The event, which is organised by BarrierBreak, NCPEDP and the RNIB-UK, also saw Microsoft come down to promote the accessibility features of Windows 8. According to the company, it offers a wide array of tools to enable people with disabilities. Stefan Sjöström, Vice President Asia, Public Sector, Microsoft Corporation, said that Asia in general is an area that has its own unique set of issues regarding people with disabilities, which can be addressed only through a public-private partnership with local governments.

"The only way that the problems can be sorted out is by ensuring that we partner with the governments in various countries to bring about a change in the field. In fact that is what we are trying to do in Asia and in India," he said.

Techshare India, which concludes on Friday, has 25 stalls that are displaying various products, both hardware and software for disabled people and are panel discussions on the various aspects of technology and how it is beneficial for people with disabilities. A total of 500 delegates from government and non-profit organisations, educational institutes and corporate sectors are attending the event, where more than 50 speakers are addressing issues related to accessibility standards and law.

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