Telecom regulator Trai today recommended that all mobile manufacturers producing five or more handset models be mandated to bring out at least one handset that meets accessibility criteria for the differently-abled by 2020. Trai as part of its recommendations to make technology accessible to those who are differently-abled – numbering 26.8 million according to 2011 census – has also mooted that TV set top box makers or importers have at least one model (in different variants) “inaccessible format” by 2020.
The watchdog, which began a dialogue with the industry in December 2017 to identify barriers being faced by differently-abled in accessing telecom and broadcasting services, today come out with its policy prescription that entails over a dozen recommendations. By 2020 end, all mobile handset manufacturers producing five or more different models should produce at least one mobile handset meeting the accessibility criteria, Trai said.
From 2023 onwards all mobile and landline handsets manufactured or imported in India should be inaccessible format, it said prescribing a similar rule for set top boxes. These recommendations, if accepted and implemented by the government, would ensure that benefits of the technology are passed on to every person in the society, including those who are differently-abled. Blindness, hearing impairment, locomotor disability, Cerebral Palsy, specific learning disabilities, are among the categories requiring special attention in terms of care and assistance and using ICT equipment, the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai) observed.
Accordingly, Trai has suggested that telecom, and broadcast operators have special desks in their call centres to handle calls from the differently-abled using “assistive technologies” and their staff be sensitised to handle such queries or issues. It has also suggested that all government websites be made “accessibility compliant”. The telecom regulator has also suggested formation of a steering committee under Department of Empowerment of Persons with Disabilities with members drawn from Department of Telecom (DoT), Ministry of Information & Broadcasting (MIB), Ministry of Electronics and IT, Ministry of Corporate Affairs and Ministry of Finance to create guidelines, implementation and monitoring mechanism to improve ICT accessibility for PwDs or Persons with Disabilities.
The panel’s task would also include looking at fresh measures including funding aspects. Trai said that although private players had contributed by designing and manufacturing aids and assistive devices, the corresponding developments in the sphere of ICT services or content are yet to come about in India. Citing a case in point, Trai said that while the website content may be machine-readable, service providers continue to send utility bills in a format that cannot be accessed by persons with visual impairment. Also, though accessible set top boxes have been designed and are available in the market, there is a lack of accessible content that would support the use of such gear, it noted.
“These instances demonstrate that the full benefits of ICT development have not reached PwDs,” the regulator said. Trai has suggested that steps prescribed by International Telecommunication Union — namely ensuring availability and affordability of accessible equipment and assistive tools, specific products, tariff plans and accessible customer care services, and having captioning and audio description to make television and internet services accessible — all be adopted in India. “Government should mandate the device manufacturers or importers not to curtail the accessibility features available in popular operating systems in any manner from their devices,” Trai said.
It has also favoured telecom operators identifying and registering differently-abled customers under special category and undertaking necessary changes in Customer Acquisition Forms (CAF). “Percentages of channel content to be developed in accessible format for PwDs with audio and visual impairment have been prescribed; with 50 per cent of the channels to be developed in accessible format by next five years,” it said.
The accessibility standards recommended by the regulator for mobile phones include pre-recorded voice command facility for key functions, grips for improved stability and audio or voice interaction with user interface via voice dialling and third party apps.
For landline phones, it entails large button phones, and voice controlled calling, programmable dialer with possibly pictures on the buttons, and ability to connect a Braille reader amongst others. Trai has said that accessibility standards for set top boxes should encompass channel or program selection, display of channel/program information and setup options amongst others.