Disability Activists Claim Niti Aayog's Action Agenda Is Inaccessible to the Visually Impaired

The Three Year Action Agenda of the Niti Aayog is the first major government document to be released since the implementation of the new Rights of Persons with Disability Act, 2016.

New Delhi: In an apparent reflection of the lack of seriousness of government departments towards disability issues, it has come to light that the recently released draft Three Year Action Agenda of Niti Aayog is completely inaccessible to people with visual impairments.

The agenda is the first major government document to be released after the enforcement of the new Rights of Persons with Disability Act, 2016 – in which accessibility of information for all is professed.

Ankit Rajiv Jindal, the co-founder and director of Disability Employment Opportunities Centre, a social enterprise working in the area of disability, flagged the issue in a letter to Bibek Debroy, a member of Niti Aayog. Incidentally, Prime Minister Narendra Modi is the chairperson of this premier policy ‘think tank’ of the government of India that claims to be “providing both directional and policy inputs”.

In his letter, Jindal, who is also a member of the National Committee for the Rights of Persons with Disability, said the “PDF document” on the link provided to access the action agenda was “completely inaccessible for people who are blind or use an assistive technology.”

Several accessibility issues

Himself a “person with visual impairment”, Jindal wrote that he uses a screen reader such as NVDA and JAWS to access digital documents. “As an end user”, he observed that the document suffers from several accessibility issues.

“Although the text appeared to be in English for a sighted reader, when it interfaces with assistive technology such as screen readers, it is not recognised at all. As a result, the document remains inaccessible even after the text is copy-pasted to a word document. Further, the document is also not appropriately tagged. As a result, a user cannot navigate using commands for headings, tables etc.,” Jindal said.

In fact, before sending the letter, he mentioned therein that he had “tested this document on multiple systems using Windows 7, Windows 10 and Apple iOS devices using screen readers Jaws 17, Jaws 18, NVDA 2017 and VoiceOver.”

Document deteriorates gradually

Jindal also attached a sample of how the document was appearing for screen reader user. He further wrote to Debroy: “You’ll notice the first couple of paragraphs appear normal, which is also read well by the screen readers. But, as we go down, the document turns into a complex maze of question marks and illogical letters, thereby making it impossible for us to access the content.”

Agenda impacts the lives of all PwDs

The letter also points out that “the three-year agenda impacts every citizen”, including the persons with disabilities and therefore it was unfortunate that an important document such as the three-year agenda remained completely inaccessible.

What also irked the disability rights activist is that this is the first major government document to be released after the enforcement of the new Rights of Persons with Disability Act 2016, which came into force only about a fortnight ago.

Corrective steps needed

The letter has called upon Niti Aayog to take corrective steps and prioritise “to make the agenda document accessible”. It has also urged it to institutionalise “an internal policy and process that ensures all future documents released by Niti are first checked for accessibility before release”.

The rights activist has also suggested to the Niti Aayog that this may not be such an arduous task after all as Adobe Acrobat, which is one of the most popular applications for creating PDF documents, has several features to make a document accessible, and has even provided a link to the same.

Furthermore, Jindal said the think tank team can find several other resources available on the internet that provide guidance on creating an accessible document.

He said persons with disabilities across the nation as also others “hope for a speedy resolution” of the problem. Moreover, he said, they “hope that not only this document but also all future documents from the government of India are released only in accessible format.”

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