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Growing the Internet 11 December 2017

Building a World Free of Barriers: Vashkar Bhattacharjee’s Story

Vashkar Bhattacharjee
By Vashkar BhattacharjeeGuest Author

We recently shared Part One and Part Two of Vashkar Bhattacharjee’s story. Vashkar is the National Consultant, Accessibility, A2i, Prime Minister’s Office of Bangladesh, the Second Vice-President, GAATES (Global Alliance on Accessible Technologies & Environments), and the Program Manager, Young Power in Social Action (YPSA).

Our research at Young People in Social Action (YPSA), Bangladesh revealed that developing multimedia talking books would not be enough to ensure proper learning among students. For that to happen, the students required access to rich vocabulary libraries for proper understanding of language. (We have been supported by a2i program’s Service Innovation Fund to develop Bangladesh’s first accessible dictionaries in English and Bangla available in both online and offline modes.)

People are amazed to see persons with visual impairment using computers and smartphones. This has been made easy thanks to the open-source screen-reading software that can convert text to speech. People with visual impairment can also use the standard QWERTY keyboard just like everybody else as it has become second nature. Among the 50 people working at YPSA, 32 have a disability. ICTs have helped them overcome physical barriers.

In the role of a2i’s national consultant for disability, I am working on making different websites accessible for all following W3C’s Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0 standard to achieve sustainable goals by 2030 where no one would be left behind. Among these websites, the most significant one is the National Portal which is a harmonized system of public websites that reduce the hassle, time, and costs incurred by citizens in accessing and availing themselves of government information and services.

I am also leading an initiative as part of a2i to encourage the Bangladesh government to take the steps necessary to ratify the Marrakesh VIP Treaty to facilitate access to published works for people who are blind, visually impaired, or otherwise print disabled. The Marrakesh VIP Treaty is an international agreement that will help an estimated 285 million blind people worldwide have greater access to books published in accessible formats. Implementing the Marrakesh VIP Treaty would remove restrictions on the ability of Bangladesh to import legally-produced audio and Braille books without specific permission from the publishers.

Now that I look back at my life, I cannot help but be amazed. While I did not have any teachers at school trained to teach blind students, here I was, about 15 years later, teaching blind people how to access content using the power of ICT and the Internet. For the last 20 years, I have been closely working on promoting accessible technology and information for people with disabilities. In the process, I have engaged in multiple dialogues with leading think tanks and policymakers who are promoting the agenda of accessible information for all, including the Internet Society, APNIC, the DAISY Consortium, ITU, the Accessible Books Consortium of WIPO, and the Global Alliance of Accessible Technology and Environments (GAATES).

Lastly, I tried to inspire people in my community to move forward to use “accessible technology” for the betterment of all and to create a community so they can take another big step towards living their lives with blindness. I am ever grateful to YPSA for trusting my abilities. I acknowledge Access to Information (a2i) program for their overall support in implementing initiatives for the empowerment of persons with disabilities. I strongly believe that together we can build a world free of barriers.

Vashkar Bhattacharjee will be attending the Internet Governance Forum (IGF) later this month as an IGF Ambassador, where this year’s theme is Shape Your Digital Future. He welcomes other attendees to reach out to him to learn more about his work.

In the meantime, you can read the W3C Introduction to Web Accessibilityand learn about the DAISY Consortium and the Dynamic Coalition on Access and Disability, two organizations working to ensure equal access to information and knowledge.

The Internet Society strives towards a future where “The Internet is for Everyone”. Visit the Accessibility Toolkit page to learn how every person in the Internet community can contribute to a more accessible Internet.

Learn how you, too, can help shape tomorrow!

Disclaimer: Viewpoints expressed in this post are those of the author and may or may not reflect official Internet Society positions.

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