For a country nearly seven months into the pandemic-induced lockdown, the start of the Indian Premier League (IPL) this week will offer millions of Indians a much-needed distraction from their listless days. However, for people with visual impairments, inaccessibility will stand in the way of them joining in to watch India’s favourite pastime.
Last year, a total of 300 million viewers logged onto Disney+ Hotstar alone, a streaming platform, to watch the IPL. This time around, the revamped app doesn’t include screen reader compatibility.
Through a letter and an online petition, Indians with visual impairments are demanding that Disney+ Hotstar make their app more accessible and ensure screen reader compatibility to make it inclusive and allow them to enjoy cricket season like the rest of the country. The petition is a part of the Digital Accessibility Project, an initiative led by Rising Flame, a Mumbai-based disability rights organization, which intends to make digital spaces more inclusive for people with disabilities.
“Blind people are really into cricket, we also have a blind cricket team; people are fully geared up [now that] cricketing action is back after such a long time,” Nidhi Goyal, founder and executive director of Rising Flame, told Re:Set. It is the buzz around the sport finally resuming that has gotten the community restless to access it.
Tony Kurian, a disability rights activist and a member of the Digital Accessibility Project, explained that TalkBack and VoiceOver are the screen reading software for Android and iOS platforms respectively. When it is enabled, everything on the screen is read out for the user, and for screen readers to work efficiently “certain adjustments need to be made and technical conditions need to be met,” Kurian told Re:Set. “[On an interface] if you have a picture [or icon] of a home, instead of a home button, the screen reader doesn’t recognize the picture so it will read it as unlabelled.” Thus, when a user interface has multiple such unlabelled tabs, navigation becomes challenging.
“You don’t see people with disabilities, you still see them as objects of charity.”
In the e-mail addressed to Disney+ Hotstar, the team attached a preliminary accessibility testing report. From buttons that need to be labeled to issues around logging in, they have highlighted the key accessibility challenges that they want the platform to address urgently. “We’ve not dealt with all tabs and features, but even with the basic ones we’ve found quite glaring accessibility gaps,” Kurian told Re:Set. A video released by the team also elaborates how the Disney+ Hotstar app used to be accessible in previous versions, but with newer updates, this key feature has been left out.
A Disney+ Hotstar official told the Times of India that other apps and social media don’t have screen readers and it’s unfair to single them out on this issue. However, Goyal and Kurian pointed out that Disney’s app in America, OTT platforms like Netflix and Amazon Prime in India and social media apps such as Facebook and Twitter are accessible.
Disney+ Hotstar did not respond to our multiple requests for comment.
Goyal observed that in countries such as the U.S., laws like the Americans with Disabilities Act ensure that digital spaces take accessibility into consideration right at the development stage itself. She noted that in India, the legal enforcement of such guidelines is not as strong. “You don’t see people with disabilities, you still see them as objects of charity. It’s the legal and social barriers that don’t allow companies to take people with disabilities seriously as consumers,” she said.
For the community, this is just an inflection point; from here they intend to make headway on financial apps, payment gateways and virtual workspaces. “People with disabilities are not your good deed for the day,” Goyal said. “We’re just saying that you’re missing out on this whole bank of customers…from a business standpoint.”