Regulator TRAI will by the middle of this year recommend measures to make telecom and broadcasting services more accessible for the differently-abled, its Chairman R S Sharma has said. Sharma said service providers and other stakeholders must respond to the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India’s (TRAI) recent discussion paper on the issue with constructive suggestions to brainstorm solutions, aids and assistive devices that would make telecom and broadcasting services more “inclusive”. “We should be able to come out with the recommendations on this consultation paper by May or June this year. By March, hopefully, we will have an open house discussion with stakeholders,” Sharma told PTI. Sharma said finding solutions that would make information and communications technology (ICT) accessible for the differently-abled was of utmost importance given the fact that mobile phones and devices have become “ubiquitous and universal”. “The percentage of Persons with Disabilities (PwDs) in the total population has grown to 2.21 per cent in 2011, with 2.68 crore PwDs in the country,” the TRAI chief said. Last month, the regulator, through a new consultation paper began a dialogue on making ICT accessible for the differently-abled, saying more policy interventions were needed in this area where benefits of technology have not been fully realised.
It has sought industry views on whether handset makers should be mandated to manufacture at least one model for such individuals with assistive technology features such as hearing, visual aids and emergency buttons. TRAI had also asked if information on billing and pricing needs to be provided in a more accessible form for them. The consultation paper has also sought the industry’s comments on disabilities that need to be included in the enabling framework, reasons for benefits not reaching PwDs and corrective measures that need to be undertaken. Sharma said sometimes the argument is given that making solutions more accessible for the differently-abled will increase costs. He, however, emphasised that these would not be universal solutions applicable to all, but rather tailor-made for such individuals. Ultimately, the “benefits of inclusion” will outweigh the cost that will be infused to make systems inclusive, Sharma argued.
TRAI’s consultation paper had expressed concern that differently-abled individuals were “often not able to access these ICT services on account of lack of necessary accessibility features or unaffordable prices of the equipment or due to unavailability of required services”. TRAI is of the view that the additional policy interventions need to be “explored and implemented to address the unique challenges” faced by them. In this regard, the consultation paper aims to identify key areas that require policy intervention and understand barriers being faced by such individuals in accessing telecom and broadcasting services. This will help in working out affirmative actions at the policy level, says the consultation paper.