There has been little attention to exploiting technological advances to assist the disabled in India.

The market for disability-assisting devices and technologies is pegged at Rs 4,500 crores in India. Yet the little interest shown by business has not only left the market untapped, but has also worked to the disadvantage of disabled people.

Technologies play a critical role in the lives of people with disabilities, but owing to their high price most of the assistive devices are beyond the reach of millions of disabled in India.

Experts discussing the role of technology in bettering the lives of the disabled said that scaling up of production in terms of numbers could make the market for disability products in India, affordable.

Speaking at Techshare India-2014, a pan disability conference, experts said that India has a potential market of Rs 4,500 crore for assistive devices and disability-products.

Neil Heslop, Group Director, Royal National Institute of Blind People- UK (RNIB), said that technology was helping to bring the electronic devices within the reach of the poor people with disabilities.

“World is seeing unprecedented technological changes. The digital revolution is bringing immense possibilities. It is a time for extraordinary opportunities and we need to translate those opportunities in practical meaningful change,” he said.

Stefan Sjöström, Vice President Asia, Public Sector, Microsoft Corporation, said that technology was a very powerful tool for enabling the disabled. Microsoft showcases about 350 accessibility solutions in association with 250 partners across the world, he said.

“We spend 10 billion dollars a year in Research and Development, which is three times as much as any other IT company. At Superbowl this year, which is known for its expensive advertising spots, we at Microsoft issued a commercial that recognised the need for accessibility with the tagline ‘technology has the power to unite us’,” he said.

India’s foremost disability rights activist Javed Abidi giving an example of government’s apathy towards the disabled said that around 5000 government websites were still inaccessible to the disabled. He rued that technology was supposed to be a great leveler but on the contrary it has ended up being discriminatory.

Talking about the importance of discussion and discourse for sensitizing people about the disabled, he said, “There has hardly been any discourse on Technology, Information Technology and Information Communication Technology vis-a-vis the disabled people in India,” he said.

Abidi lamented that the aids and assistive devices are not available to the masses as they are very expensive. “We need to promote such devices at a lower cost,” he said.

Talking about the Disability Rights Bill which has been introduced in Rajya Sabha, Abidi, said that the bill stipulates that accessible education will be a duty of all institutions. “A small change in the wording introduced in the current Disability Rights Bill is a major move in the right direction. Accessible education is now a key not only for all government funded but also government recognized institutions. The Bill also stipulates that all content in audio, print and electronic media should be in accessible format (via audio description, close captioning, and sign language interpretation). We hope that the bill passes and becomes a law soon” Abidi said.

Shilpi Kapoor, Managing Director, Barrier Break, lamented that no Indian company was dedicated for devising technology for the disabled people. “None of us can do it alone. Be it disability organisations or corporates,” she said.

She said that with 70 million disabled people with disabilities, India has an estimated size of Rs 4500 crore market for disability products. Assistive technologies would enable the lives of the elderly and the disabled. The Republic Day parade this year was sign language enabled, which indicated a positive change towards a more inclusive society,” she said.

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