RCC Community Explores
Equitable Digital Access in India

Nilesh Singit At the IDE&A Conference in Kerala, India

Nilesh Singit At the IDE&A Conference in Kerala, India 

29th March 2024

Last month, the Responsible Computing Challenge (RCC) community in India — along with several allies — explored the crucial issue of digital accessibility.

On the 19th and 20th of February 2024, the Vathil Foundation and Marian College Kuttikkanam (Autonomous), in partnership with the Responsible Computing Challenge, organized the IDE&A Conference in Kerala, India. The conference’s focus was on "Equitable Digital Access for Persons with Disability," emphasizing the importance of holistic digital approaches that adhere to principles of inclusivity, equity, and accessibility.

Held at Marian College, Kuttikkanam, India, the conference attracted journalists, social workers, policy experts, disability advocates, lawyers, and students. It featured panel sessions covering media representations of people with disabilities; technological advancements in accessibility; tailored curricula for those with learning disabilities; employment opportunities for individuals with disabilities; and the mission of achieving a harmonious balance in societal inclusion.

RCC — now in its sixth year — encourages the next generation of technologists to prioritize ethics alongside innovation. The initiative blends Computer Science curricula with other disciplines, like the Humanities, Law, Policy, and Social Sciences. RCC opened applications in India in July 2023, with support from both Mozilla and USAID.

February event’s inaugural address was delivered by Rev. Fr. Bobby Alex Mannanplackal, Manager of Marian College Kuttikkanam Autonomous, and Prof. Dr. Ajimon George, Principal of MCKA. Both speakers congratulated the organizing team and expressed gratitude for the support from Mozilla's RCC.

In her opening speech, RCC India finalist Nisha Jose (School of Social Work, Marian College Kuttikkanam, and Vathil Foundation) highlighted the pressing need for a more accessible and inclusive environment for individuals with disabilities, emphasizing the pivotal role of assistive technology in promoting their social inclusion. Nish Jose's project aims to make the digital world more inclusive for people with disabilities through the development of an immersive Augmented Reality-based handbook on Equity in Digital Accessibility, as well as providing undergraduate students with a Certificate in Equitable Digital Access.

Keynote speaker Nilesh Singit shared his extensive experience and knowledge on accessibility, universal designs, and both international and national policies on digital accessibility. He also highlighted the current state of accessibility in India, the goals of the Accessible India Campaign to make 50% of government websites accessible by 2024, and the need for effective implementation of existing laws on digital accessibility. Singit a Distinguished Research Fellow at the Centre for Disabilities Studies, NALSAR University of Law Hyderabad, and a Disability Icon of the State of Maharashtra,

Dr. P.J. Mathew Martin, head of the Information and Documentation Center of AYJNISHD, and Dr. G. Senthil Kumar, Chairman of Helikx Open School Salem, shared their insights on media and disability communications, and the use of AI and technology to overcome learning disabilities, respectively. The event also welcomed participation from the Kerala State government, with Prajith K, Manager of "Samagra," discussing the improvement of employability for people with disabilities and emphasizing the importance of involving persons with disabilities in project design consultations. 

Other speakers included Dr. Jubilant Kizhakkethottam, Assistant Professor in the Computer Science Department at Saintgits College, psychologist Dr. Hena N. N., and Ajesh P. Joseph, Co-Organizer and Department Head of the Master of Social Work program at Marian College Kuttikkanam Autonomous. The event also featured role-playing exercises to provide insight into the experiences of individuals with disabilities.

Says Jibu Elias, Responsible Computing Challenge Lead for India: "In an era where technology shapes our lives and futures, the IDE&A National Seminar 2024 stands as a testament to the power of inclusive education and innovation. This event marks a pivotal step forward in reimagining technology education, where interdisciplinary approaches and diverse perspectives converge to create a more inclusive and equitable digital future for persons with disabilities."

This event marks a pivotal step forward in reimagining technology education.

Jibu Elias, Responsible Computing Challenge Lead for India

The seminar closed with a call for more initiatives like this, emphasizing the need for inclusion and accessibility experts across all sectors and highlighting the particular need for increased awareness and education in the technological fields to foster a more inclusive and accessible physical and digital environment. The Mozilla-RCC India initiative, backed by USAID, is nearing the final stages of announcing the grant winners for the 2023-24 period.