Ritu Raj/ Zee Research Group
The NDA government has made an ambitious plan by setting aside US$ 83.4 million for a national programme to improve access to digital services in the budget for FY 2014-15. While the initiative, Digital India, aims at “ensuring broadband connectivity at village level and improved access to services through IT-enabled platforms,” the current state of websites of major central government departments may prove to be a major hindrance in its implementation.
Zee Research Group (ZRG) reviewed official websites of 16 government departments to check how friendly they were for physically challenged people and citizens who are only well-versed in regional languages.
The websites were checked on four parameters for the physically unfit: Text Size option that would enable easy readability to people with weak eyesight, Contrast Scheme options that would cater to those with colour blindness; Screen Reader Access Option for the visually challenged, and W3C CSS Validation Service that gives errors on each website as per the standard international guidelines.
According to Professor PJ Mathew Martin, faculty of Disability Communication in AYJNIHH, Mumbai, a website must meet at least three basic criteria for the physically unfit, i.e. text size option for visually challenged person, contrast scheme options for colour blind and screen reader options for visually challenged people.
Out of the 16 websites, only ministry of external affairs meets all the criteria. This website also shows zero errors on CSS validation service. This is also the only website available in various other languages along with Hindi and English.
Only 50 per cent of the selected websites have the text resize option, while the contrast scheme is available on seven. When the Screen Reader Access option was checked, the number further decreased to six.
The websites of Income Tax department, Indian Railways, UIDAI, Election Commission, Law and Justice, NCERT, Lok Sabha and CIC do not even have one option out of the three deemed necessary for physically handicapped people.
As per a study done by the government itself in July 2013, just two of its over 200 websites were found disabled-friendly. This report was compiled by the National Informatics Centre on the direction from the cabinet secretariat. After one year of the report, conditions remain the same.
The budget also includes the country’s next e-governance plan, E-Kranti, to digitise government service delivery and a “National Rural Internet and Technology Mission for services in villages and schools”. As most of the government websites are only available in two languages — English and Hindi — absence of regional languages is bound to create additional problems in the digitization process.
Websites of ministry of law and justice, ministry of family and welfare and Central Information Commission are only available in English, while rest of the 13 checked are available in both Hindi and English.
UIDAI and ministry of external affairs, however, may turn pioneers in terms of regional languages. MEA is even available in Urdu while UIDAI offers its services in Tamil, Gujarati, Bengali, Marathi and Tamil languages along with Hindi and English.
Finance minister Arun Jaitley has mentioned the use of information technology in the budget for education, taxes and visas. He has allocated US$ 16.7 million in the budget for setting up virtual classrooms and online courses for schools.
This is in line with the BJP’s 2014 election manifesto pledging “massive open online courses and virtual classrooms” for “working class people and housewives to further their knowledge and qualifications”.