Sunday, 28 August 2016

Universal Design and Accessibility Conclave @ IIMA

Approx. Reading Time : 5 minutes 40 seconds

The Universal Design & Accessibility Conclave which was held at IIM Ahmedabad was mainly to bring different stakeholders involved in the bubble surrounding a person with disabilities such as government  bodies, corporates, startups, architects, designers, their families to a common platform to discuss and bring more empathy and think inclusively while designing products, services, spaces and systems. Sometimes such facilities are designed and enforced on people with disabilities but they aren't able to feel comfortable using them primarily because the design process failed to consider them during the process and co- create with a participatory approach. Systems thinking joins things end to end. How can this process be executed with universal design thinking?

Berlin, which was awarded the European Access city of the year 2012 by the Berlin EU commission has inclusive experiences for the users such as barrier free shopping and dining, ease in toilet location, wheelchair breakdown service, escort service, accessibility for all in museums and places of sightseeing among others.

Some companies in India like Lemon Tree Hotels and Vodafone are leading this initiative by provided employment to people with intellectual disability and visual impairment respectively. 10% of India is disabled in some form or the other which amounts to 7 crore or in other words 70 million people. This clearly indicates the need of the hour to take action.

Given below are some of the important points mentioned by the speakers. Since the blogger was affected by the dire need to fall asleep in the middle of some lectures, they haven't turned up here.

1. Mr. Dipendra Manocha
    Managing trustee, Saksham Trust Technical Lead, Daisy Consort
    'Can you build another world for me?'

Inclusive education should be implemented in mainstream schools. Unless we realize this, there is no universal design. When we think of education for children with disabilities, we assume that a special school for them should be made. But why a school for the blind specifically? Can't existing schools have aids or modified environments to accommodate such kids and new schools be built keeping in mind the needs of all? The products and environments around us can enable or disable us. Therefore, we need products and environments that enable and make the people who fall out of the so called normal category feel no different.

"Blindness is not a disability. Not being able to do something because of blindness is disability."

2. Ms. Anjlee Agarwal
   Executive Director, Samarthyam
   'Sustainable Sugamya - Smart Cities'

Ms. Anjlee's focus was on the proposal of solutions which are non negotiables to be incorporated in the design of public facilities. She advocated that there should be a focus on capacity building; management, monitoring, feedback and improvement of public facilities and strict enforcement and punitive action on non compliance of these non negotiables.

The benefits of this are not one but many. It will enhance the quality of life; promote equitable usage; increase safety, mobility of trans-generational population and also has moral, legal and commercial advantages. Having muscular distrophy herself, she gave an insight that she goes out shopping with her friends or family and the more the number of people who are able to enjoy daily experiences of life with ease, the more they will contribute to the economy.

"Nothing about us, Without us."

3. Shri Mukesh Kumar
    Municipal Commissioner, Ahmedabad, Gujarat, India
    'Envision Smart Cities - Challenges and pointers '

Being a representative of the government, Shri Mukesh Kumar brought in a perspective from the policy makers of India. He made the audience aware of  practical solutions that are under away to make Ahmedabad a smart city. 

Why do we need a smart city? Nowadays, technology has become affordable, accessible and effective and the need of the hour is to rethink how we manage the cities. The growth of the cities is outpacing the government's ability to provide basic services to citizens. The use of IoT (Internet of Things) and ICT (Information and Communication Technology) can be used to monitor water supply networks; transportation systems; hospitals, schools and libraries; waste management networks etc. and get direct interface with the citizens in the form of monitoring the quality of service and grievance redressal. This will lead to equitable and customised governance.

To start with, the transition between BRTS (Bus Rapid Transit : also known as Janmarg) and AMTS (Ahmedabad Municipal Transport Services) will become more seamless in the coming days/ months/ years to help all citizens whether it be children, adults, persons with disability and the elderly to move around the city with ease and independence.


4. Shri Deepender Singh
    Head, Strategy and Planning, Digital India, Ministry of Electronics, Gov. of India
    'Digital India, Empowering India '

"A program to transform India into a digitally empowered society and knowledge economy."

Being a government representative, Shri Deepender Singh also brought in insights from the point of view of a policy maker. Digital India, Empowering India is a programeto prepare India for a knowledge future. As our Prime Minister Narender Modi has pointed out :

IT (Indian Talent) + IT (Information Technology) = IT (India Tomorrow)

The vision is to make technology an enabler of change by providing digital infrastructure to every citizen, digital services and governance on demand to lead to digital empowerment. He also mentioned the storage of documents such as the result sheets of class 10, class 12, PAN card on a cloud to avoid carrying all these documents when applying for transfer certificate in schools, admissions, passport application etc. to make the process faster and hassle free for the citizens.

Ideas, suggestions and problems were put forth by groups of designers, architects, start-ups, corporates etc. in a given time limit of 5 minutes in the last leg of the conference. Taparch, a shoe designed for visually impaired users and a robotic arm, both of which have been incubated at the National Design Business Incubator at NID, Ahmedabad were presented. Apart from this other issues such as the need to be smart and empathetic as individuals before moving to create a smart city, bringing a digital revolution while keeping the culture and cultural practices of India in mind, considering sustainability and eco-friendliness of rampant digitization were raised.

The conference was moderated by Prof. Ashis Jalote Parmar, faculty of Design Thinking and Innovation in the field of Business Policy at the Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad. On the whole, the conference was an awareness initiative for the audience present. We need such conferences because they are like the rocks in the middle of a river and affect the flow of our thoughts and mindset. This will hopefully make us change our ways and approach to life for good.

Alvida, Sayonara, Bye till the next post. 

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