'Inclusive India- Digital First' Summit Sparks Change

"With a mere fraction of India's digital space being accessible to people with disabilities, it’s imperative to look at global models of digital accessibility," highlights Shilpi Kapoor, CEO of BarrierBreak

In a significant stride towards fostering an inclusive digital ecosystem, the 2nd edition of the 'Inclusive India – Digital First' conference on Tuesday concluded, marking a pivotal moment in India’s journey towards digital accessibility. The event brought together the luminaries of the Indian IT industry, focusing on the imperative integration of people with disabilities into the digital framework. 

On the occasion, Rajesh Aggarwal, Secretary, DEPWD, Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment, Government of India said, “There are numerous schemes, and we are actively promoting barrier-free campaigns for accessibility. We're addressing physical accessibility by incorporating ramps for wheelchairs, lifts, accessible buses, and designing disability-friendly toilets at railway stations. 

“Ensuring inclusivity and accessibility for people with disabilities is a multi-faceted challenge that demands a collaborative approach. Currently, we witness a commendable synergy between government bodies, regulators, disabled community groups, and corporate entities. This collaborative effort, comprising about 80% of our satisfaction, has been instrumental in driving positive changes. However, the remaining 20% sometimes necessitates a more assertive stance, involving the use of legal measures. While legal avenues are crucial in certain cases, the majority of our progress stems from this joint effort, emphasizing the importance of ongoing collaboration to create a truly inclusive environment,” Aggarwal told BW People. 

Speaking on creating an inclusive hiring approach, Aggarwal told BW People, “In my engagements with diverse companies and influential groups like FICCI, the compelling evidence from global studies resonates that inclusive hiring practices, particularly for persons with disabilities, yield significant organizational benefits. Beyond improving workplace dynamics, statistics reveal that individuals with disabilities often have smaller social networks, leading to reduced gossip and heightened productivity. I encourage the corporate world to take the leap of faith, recognizing that inclusive practices not only align with social responsibility but also contribute to a more robust and thriving work environment.”

Highlighting the community's role, Aggarwal stressed collective efforts with corporations and the government to address problems. He emphasized the need for inclusive education, stating, ‘Availability of braille for the blind is crucial, and text-to-speech is essential for the deaf.’

Shilpi Kapoor, CEO of BarrierBreak told BW People, “In the realm of hiring individuals with disabilities, a crucial shift in perspective is needed. Often, companies specify roles with a focus on a particular disability, inadvertently limiting the potential skill sets available. It's time for a recalibration. At BarrierBreak, we've adopted an innovative approach, no longer fixating on a candidate's educational background. Instead, we prioritize skills and a willingness to learn. By investing in teaching, we've not only witnessed remarkable retention rates but have also tapped into an incredible talent pool. It's a call for companies to reevaluate their hiring criteria, focusing on skills and the potential for growth rather than restrictive educational benchmarks. The untapped potential lies in embracing a diverse range of abilities and fostering a culture of inclusivity.”

“Employee resource groups are undeniably powerful tools for fostering inclusion within companies. However, it's crucial to recognize that these groups must authentically include individuals with disabilities, ensuring that their voices are heard directly rather than through intermediaries. The key lies in companies actively listening to their voices, tailoring initiatives to address the specific needs and nuances of the disabled community. Often, global ERGs bring mandates that might not fully align with the Indian context, so it's essential to adapt and tweak these initiatives for a more effective and locally relevant approach. By genuinely including the disabled community and tailoring inclusion efforts to the Indian context, we can forge a path forward towards a more inclusive workplace,” added Kapoor.

The conference saw the participation of leading technology and financial organizations, including Microsoft, Google, Salesforce, Wipro, HSBC, Accenture, TCS, Union Bank of India, State Street, and Atos. These companies presented their initiatives and progress in making their products and services more accessible to people with disabilities.

NCPEDP delegate focused on the importance of international standards in digital accessibility, remarking, "Embracing the Web Content Accessibility Guideline 2.2 - Level AA standards is not just about compliance for companies; it’s about responsibility towards creating an inclusive digital world."

The conference featured in-depth discussions on the latest version of the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) and explored how artificial intelligence can intersect with disability to promote greater independence.

In her closing remarks, Kapoor highlighted the urgency of the situation, "With a mere fraction of India's digital space being accessible to people with disabilities, it’s imperative to look at global models of digital accessibility. We envision a future where 'Made in India' tech products are synonymous with accessibility and inclusivity."

The 'Inclusive - India: Digital First' summit not only served as an educational platform but also as a clarion call for collective action, urging all stakeholders in India's digital development to prioritize accessibility and inclusivity.