Accessibility December 4, 2020
Varija Life’s National Ability Summit highlights opportunities for disability inclusion in diverse fields
World leaders came together at the National Ability Summit to share challenges, opportunities and learnings in their journey of disability inclusion. The virtual international conference organised by Varija Life, the not-for-profit founded by Varija Bajaj, seeks to stir up action for an inclusive global society. Newz Hook was a media partner at the event.
From employment and HR for people with disabilities, assistive technologies, mental health, adaptive clothing, art and films and digital accessibility, the National Ability Summit (NAS) organised by Varija Life saw the presence of leaders from the world over.
The challenges as well as opportunities of building inclusion in the post Covid world were uppermost on the minds of all speakers.
The session on infrastructural accessibility saw the presence of entrepreneurs and disability rights activists. “I look forward to the day when International Day of Persons with Disability is transformed to International Day of Accessibility”, said Gaurav Raheja, Professor of Architecture, Indian Institute of Technology Roorkee, while speaking about the Accessible India Campaign.
World leaders from disability space
Kush Kanodia, Chief Disability officer, The Kaleidoscope Group of Companies talked about an integrated approach to accessibility. “If you don’t provide free disabled parking, you are not fully accessible to people”, he said.
The importance of assistive technologies to build inclusion was also emphasised. Christopher Patnoe, the Head of Google’s Accessibility Demand and Digital Inclusion, US, said there’s a need to “break apart” the old-fashioned devices and build new ones in collaboration with the people of the community.
The opportunities and challenges around digital accessibility are especially relevant in the post Covid scenario. Speaking at the session, Robin Christopherson, Head, Digital Inclusion, AbilityNet, said accessibility had become beneficial for everyone.
Everyday solutions for accessibility
“So many features originally created for disabled people are now being used by everyone else”, said Christopherson. “Like the Reader mode for instance. Accessibility in people’s perceptions has baggage, like its meant for disabled people and can be bolted on or off. We want people to think of accessibility for everyone”.
While Covid has underlined the critical need for accessibility, there’s still a long way to go, pointed out Shilpi Kapoor, Founder-CEO, BarrierBreak, 247Accessible Documents and Newz Hook-Disability and Accessibility News.
“There are still many products out there that are accessible, and it is time to change everyday things that need to be accessible”, she said. “Until now the conversation was largely about banking , education, etc. but we now need everyday solutions to become accessible. There is an opportunity, but we get asked the same question – Where are the disabled and who are we making this for?’
This shift can only happen if the government comes on board, she said. “Though we have every legislation in place, it has to be implemented”.
Sessions on adaptive fashion and art and cinema were also held. Speaking at the session on adaptive fashion ear, Nikki Hind, Australis’ first blind fashion designer called for disabled people to be placed at decision making tables.
“We have to deal with our perception and idea of disability, not from a medical model or clinical model, but from a social model,” said Stephanie Thomas, Founder and CEO of Cur8able, while talking about solutions for styling clothes for disabled people. Moderating the session was Varija Bajaj, Founder, Varija Lifestyles and Varija Life, who added, “You cannot do for them without them.”
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