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Indian app to improve accessibility for the specially-abled

A crowdsourcing mobile application to enhance accessibility for specially-abled individuals has been launched in New Delhi. The app aims to augment built-up environments (steps, ramps, emergency exits), the transportation sector, and the information communication technologies (ICTs) ecosystem in India.

The Minister of Social Justice and Empowerment, Thaawarchand Gehlot, virtually launched the Sugamya Bharat application as well as a handbook called, “Access – The Photo Digest”, which have both been developed by the Department of Empowerment of Persons with Disabilities (DEPwD).

According to a press release, the app provides five main features, four of which are directly related to enhancing accessibility. The fifth is meant for only COVID-19-related issues. Users can register complaints about public places, services, or utilities that are inaccessible. They will be able to upload photographs and geo-tag the location of the premises for authority intervention. Users will also receive departmental updates, guidelines, and circulars related to accessibility on the mobile application.

The Minister explained that the app, which is available in ten regional languages, aims to help spread awareness and make public spaces, transportation, and other services more accessible. The implementation of accessibility-related activities across the country is a step towards the vision of a universally-accessible and inclusive India, the release noted.

The app’s interface is user-friendly and features easy drop-down menus and tutorials in Hindi, English, and sign language that demonstrate how to register or upload complaints with photographs. The app offers font-size adjustments, color-contrasting options, text-to-speech, and an integrated screen reader in Hindi and English.

The app will be monitored through a project monitoring unit (PMU) under DEPwD. The PMU will forward the complaints received through the app to the appropriate authorities across India. These include district magistrates, collectors for state government-owned buildings, or executive heads of Urban Local Bodies (ULB) for other buildings, including private spaces that fall under their jurisdiction.

Accessibility complaints related to central government premises or services will be forwarded to the nodal officers nominated for this purpose by the concerned ministries and departments. If the complaint is not addressed, the matter will be taken to the next highest authority.

An accessible government building is one where citizens with disabilities have no barrier in entering it and using all the facilities therein. This covers built environments such as steps and ramps, corridors, entry gates, emergency exits, and parking as well as indoor and outdoor facilities like lighting, signages, alarm systems, and toilets. Identifying accessible buildings requires annual accessibility audits that determine if a building meets a certain standard.

Further, accessible transportation plays a critical role in the growth of the economy and an inaccessible transportation system restricts mobility and denies freedom of movement and active participation for much of the population who need accessible transportation.

Access – The Photo Digest handbook is a collection of photographs from across different states and union territories. It is a tool and guide to sensitise stakeholders about ten basic features of accessibility and associated good-bad practices in an easy-to-understand pictorial form. An electronic version of the handbook will also be available on the app and the Department website.

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