Smart Cities’ Digital Divide: Call for Focus on Accessibility
In an age when information technology has become a way of life, a sect of the society – the Persons with Disabilities have been ignored to a large extent. Accessibility for the disabled today is not just limited to physical access to buildings, its scope has widened to various platforms including information, communication and services meant for the public, eminent disability rights’ activist Shruti Mohapatra said. Addressing the urban lecture series on accessibility in Smart Cities, held here on Tuesday, Mohapatra said, accessibility is no more an entitlement, it is a basic right of the PWDs. As the Lok Sabha has already passed the Rights of PwDs Act in December last year, the Government should make it mandatory for the implementation agencies to incorporate accessibility components in service sectors, she said.
Speaking at the forum, Shilpi Kapoor, founder of ‘BarrierBreak’ a Mumbai-based accesibility and assistive technology company said, there is a common assumption that technology is solely meant for the abled and the PwDs do not need or use IT-enabled applications. The Government is a key player in bridging the digital divide that has deprived the disabled section from accessing and enjoying the wonders of technology. “If an information on a socio-cultural event to be held in a Smart City has to be dissipated, it must have feeds on whether the venue is disabled-friendly. Furthering it, there must be an accessible digital platform by using which the PwDs can gather this information,” she said.
Addressing the occasion, Global Chairperson of Disabled People’s International Javed Abidi, meetings and seminars for awareness and consciousness of people for the PwDs has saturated. It is time for action, and the stakeholders in the Smart City mission should ensure that Websites, mobile-based applications and utility should include the accessibility-for-all criteria from the development stage itself. Development Commissioner R Balakrishnan assured the participants that funds will not be an issue for making services accessible for the PwDs. The Department of Social Security and Empowerment of PwDs is the only Department which has been given a free hand to make proposals. Finance will not be an impediment to assist, enable and empower PwDs in the State, he added.
Bhubaneswar Smart City Limited Managing Director Dr Krishan Kumar said, Janpath will be the first completely accessible street in the Temple City. Guidelines have been drafted for the project and opened for citizens’ feedback The draft will be formalised soon. Bhubaneswar will also have audio guides at key traffic junctions to help PWDs, he said.