The coronavirus pandemic and the subsequent lockdown to curb its spread has changed the way the world lives, works, interacts with others, exercises and much else. And while the world is getting used to what is now being called the "new normal", there is nothing normal about the challenges one faces in this post-virus world, especially for persons with disabilities.
While the pandemic has disrupted everyday human activities like going out for food and drinks, there has been a massive spike in online ordering. As stepping out is seen as a risk of getting exposed to coronavirus infection, ordering food, groceries, clothes, books, etc, online has gained even more currency now.
The initial days of lockdown made many people wary of even getting food from the delivery apps like Zomato and Swiggy. But these jitters soon faded away as these apps assured safety and even offered to deliver groceries at our doorsteps.
Yet, for persons with disabilities, even this simple alternative is a reminder of the lack of inclusivity for disabled persons, be it in public spaces or virtually procured services. While ordering food from a delivery app can be as easy as a dream, most of these apps have no options or voice command for the visually impaired.
Visually impaired persons have fought an uphill battle negotiating with such popular delivery apps and their makers, which rose in popularity since the lockdown. To solve this problem, activist Aziz Minat approached these apps to make them user-friendly for the visually impaired.
To access the applications and features on their smartphones, visually impaired people make use of voice commands. But not all apps are accessible enough and the ones that do offer voice-command features often end up in glitches.
In February, Minat started a petition asking Zomato to make its app more accessible as certain buttons and icons weren't compatible with the talk-back option. Zomato, the food delivery app, responded within a month and made the application accessible.
Minat was based in a place where Zomato wasn't operating and hence couldn't check if the changes were introduced in the app. In June, when lockdown was eased, he traveled to Ahmedabad and found that Zomato had walked its talk and improvements were visible in its app.
His next step was to bring the same changes for Swiggy, another popular food delivery app. He started a similar petition for Swiggy in June, but got a response months later in August. Within a week or so of responding, Swiggy too introduced the changes. However, Siwggy still has a long way to go in terms of becoming truly inclusive, Minat says.
"Many of the icons in Swiggy aren't labeled and many times the talk back option doesn't respond," he adds. Swiggy and Zomato aren't the only apps that needed updates to be made for them to be made accessible to everyone alike. In fact, Flipkart is one app, according to Minat, which lacks accessibility. "It is not accessible enough. You click on one option and something else pops up," he says adding that he will soon start a petition for it too.
According to the Rights of Person's with Disabilities Act (2016), the government has said that it will make its apps and websites accessible to people with disabilities. "Ironically, the Arogya Setu app lacks accessibility," Minat says.
Arogya Setu is an open-source app that was launched by the Centre to help Covid–19 "contact tracing, syndromic mapping and self-assessment". It was developed by the National Informatics Centre under the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology. The app is compulsory for people travelling by train and air. Many offices and organisations too made the app mandatory for its employees.