Persons with disabilities have often been neglected and excluded from the various plans, schemes and campaigns of the Government. A case in point is the SMART Cities Mission that has hardly any mention of accessibility for persons with disabilities. More importantly, with technology being the cornerstone of the SMART Cities initiative, the already existing digital divide will only grow further if it is not made inclusive for persons with disabilities. India which is home to an estimated 70-100 million people with disabilities and an increasing number of people acquiring disabling conditions due to old age should stop viewing disability as an isolated issue. Following a holistic approach, all aspects of the SMART Cities Mission should be made accessible for persons with disabilities.
Round Table Seminar Talks about Making Smart Cities Accessible to Persons with Disabilities
To design and emphasize the need for a more inclusive and accessible approach to Smart Cities, a Roundtable Seminar was organised in Guwahati, Assam on 24th March, 2017 by National Centre for Promotion of Employment for Disabled People (NCPEDP) and Shishu Sarothi in collaboration with Guwahati Development Department, Government of Assam supported by Mphasis to further stress on the importance of integrating elements of Universal Design right at the design and development stages.
The ‘Roundtable on Inclusive SMART Cities and Accessibility for Persons with Disabilities’, seeks to create an opportunity and a knowledge base among relevant stakeholders through sharing and learning. From trends that are being followed globally vis-a-vis accessible Smart Cities, further push for digital inclusion of persons with disabilities in SMART Cities by looking at the role of cutting edge technologies is the need of the hour in making this a reality.
Participants included the Managing Director, Guwahati SMART Cities Ltd., State Government and the various Ministries/Departments; accessibility experts and professionals; civil society and disability sector leaders; and corporate and media representatives. Among the panellists were international accessibility expert and Vice-President, Global Initiative for Inclusive Information and Communication Technologies (G3ict), James Thurston who heads the global campaign on ‘Accessible Smart Cities’ at G3ict; Shwetank Dixit, Head of Accessibility Innovations and Research, BarrierBreak; Rama Chari, Director, Diversity and Equal Opportunity Centre (DEOC); Sweta Patnaik, WASH Specialist, UNICEF, Assam; and Dorodi Sharma, Disability Rights Specialist, UN India.
The substance of the discussions at the Roundtable revolved largely around the urgent need to raise awareness and to gather insights, knowledge, tools, standards and perspectives through sustained engagement with persons with disabilities and the aging communities as well as accessibility experts at all levels so as to create a greater focus on accessibility in the SMART Cities Mission including digital inclusion.
Mphasis, in its partnership with NCPEDP, has been actively supporting advocacy efforts for policy change and effective implementation of existing policies for improving the cause of persons with disabilities. These efforts largely focus on improving accessibility to physical spaces, transport and ICT for persons with disabilities. The partnership has also been actively promoting the concept of Universal Design, which refers to a design that is usable to the greatest extent possible by everyone, regardless of age, disability or situation. This is done through the NCPEDP-Mphasis Universal Design Awards which are given away each year to those who have been doing exemplary work towards improving accessibility for persons with disabilities.