Technology has come a long way. People with disabilities can now lead fulfilling and sustainable lives, with the help of modern devices and methods. Assistive technology which includes adaptive and rehabilitative devices, is a market that has seen considerable progression in the development of new methods, but a stagnation in the awareness quotient. With India having over 70 million plus people in the disabled category, there is no doubt- that the need for solutions is now.
Pioneering in this space is Barrier Break, a Mumbai based company that develops unique assistive technology products and services. In a conversation with Networked India’s Radhika Sharma, Shilpi Kapoor- the founder tells us about India’s disabled friendly equation and the creation of a limitless future.
Radhika Sharma( RS) :Tell us about Barrier Break and the services/products it offers.
Shilpi Kapoor ( SK): A for-profit venture, the company is a pioneer in providing accessibility and assistive technology solutions that are successfully opening doors for people with disabilities by making organisations inclusive.
- Assistive technology products – The company has over 50 products that cater to the needs of disabilities of all kinds. Adaptive Keyboards, ScreenReaders, Video Magnifiers, Assistive listening devices, Braille displayers, Alternate format tools, Low Vision Aids, Communication Devices and desktop magnifiers are some of the examples.
- Accessibility testing – Website and Mobile accessibility testing that adheres to international standards of being disabled-friendly.
- Accessible documents and media – Ensuring that information is provided to a wide range of users by having accessible PDFs and documents, and providing captions, audio descriptions and sign language interpretation to videos.
- Awareness Generation through TechShare India – We organize India’s only Accessibility and Assistive Technology Conference and Exhibition.
- NewzHook app and website: the first ever news portal for persons with disability
- More than 2.5 million people with disability have been benefited last year with our accessibility services and assistive technology products.
- Worked with Universities and Libraries in India and abroad and in the last year alone have converted more than 1.5 million pages into accessible formats such as digital talking books, epuband accessible pdfs.We are working with different organisations to increase the availability of assistive technology in India.
- Instrumental in the drafting and supporting of the National Policy on Electronic Accessibility for India to ensure inclusion.
- Trained approx 300+ people across India from various organizations to understand WCAG and its impact.
- Set up more than 100 schools across India with state of the art assistive technology including providing training and support. We conduct Teacher Training workshops for Microsoft India to build awareness on Assistive technology across India where we have trained more than 1000 special educators.
- Organised India’s only Accessibility and Assistive Technology Conference and Exhibition – Techshare.
RS: Where did the idea of Barrier Break come from?
SK: BarrierBreak was launched with the sole vision to ‘break the barriers of knowledge and disabilities’. When I was working as a security analyst and had a boss with whom I worked closely for over 2 years, was actually paralysed. I realised at that time that technology can be an enabler. I decided to start a company working in the area of services for inclusion and employees with disabilities.
Shilpi Kapoor 2RS: Give us some info on your team!
SK: I believe passionately that technology can be the game changer for inclusion.I am committed to the cause and interested in thinking out- of- the- box to address this challenge. I am an accessibility evangelist that has successfully built a sustainable business model in disability products and services. I am also an Ashoka Fellow and a recipient of “NCPEDP – Shell Helen Keller Award 2008” – Non-disabled role model supporter of increased employment opportunities for people with disabilities.
With a team comprising of accessibility experts and persons with disabilities, BarrierBreak has a 360 degree understanding and edge over its contemporaries. BarrierBreak team has a passion to excel and comprises of people from diverse backgrounds with 75% of our staff being persons with disabilities.
RS: Why do you think providing assistive technology through educational institutions is a major challenge?
SK: Assistive technology solutions can range from simple to the complex, but they all have one thing in common – they assist people with a wide range of disabilities and impairments to overcome their limitations and achieve greater independence.
Text Books used by students can be converted to Digital Talking Books and made available for the print impaired (people with learning and visual impairment). Computer aids such as screen readers, adaptive keyboards, desktop magnifiers etc can have a major impact in the education of persons with disability.
The primary problem that we need to address here is that the access to technology for people with disabilities is limited. In education and day-to-day life, the non availability of these assistive services hampers their education and growth.
Many schools in India are not even aware of available assistive technologies, and thus the use of these technologies is minimal in schools across the country. Also, one needs to work on training the special educators so that they are aware of the technology and how it can benefit the students.
Barrier Break 1RS: Do you think the market for assistive technology is untapped?
SK: Market for assistive technology in India is largely untapped. In India, the awareness level continues to be very less. Moreover, providing assistive technology to the end-user through educational institutions is a major challenge, since the cost of assistive technology can be prohibitive.
RS: Is India “disabled friendly”? Are there enough services/options for their personal and professional lives to flourish?
SK: 70 million people with disabilities in India and the number is increasing! Technology on the other hand is advancing. It can impact their lives in education, employment, etc. Today, these people are forgotten behind closed doors, and technology can bring them into mainstream society and create an inclusive world!
In India, awareness has always been an issue as far as accessibility and assistive technology products has been considered. We need stakeholders to understand that 70 million people with disabilities in the country cannot be ignored and building inclusion is not difficult.
We need better policy support from the government, and better legal structures, and we need to update our education. We need an action plan for businesses to show them how they can implement these things rather than only look at policy.
Barrier Break 2RS: What is the future of the company?
SK: We are looking towards inclusion of media for people with disability. With this aim, we launched The Newzhook recently to make news inclusive for all and are working towards other sectors too.
We would be looking at more of a global presence.
RS: What do you think of campaigns such as “Start Up India”? Will they enable entrepreneurs of today?
SK: Hope they would enable. Very little is being done in the field for people with disability. When we launched Newzhook we did not got any support from the government to ensure its presence in the market.