Accessible entertainment is a work in progress

By George Abraham

In recent years, technology has considerably transformed the entertainment industry, redefining the ways of content consumption. In addition to the traditional sources of entertainment like radio, television and cinema, we now have a host of digital services available to us.

With growing internet penetration and the digital push by the government, content creators have access to a wider audience than ever before. This also includes persons with disabilities, and visually impaired people like myself.

Did you know that there are 5.4 million blind people in India as per Census 2011? Going by the World Health Organisation statistics, it’s actually over 60 million in India. That’s a huge potential audience, isn’t it? The million-dollar question is whether the entertainment industry is aware of this opportunity and whether they know how to be inclusive of this large section of society. Read more

Does anyone care about the woes of the disabled?

By Shruti Pushkarna

After a month-and-a-half of being locked up in our homes, deprived of social interactions, battling with the rising fear of losing out on existing means of earning, the Hindustani janata is grappling with the classic choice between the devil and the deep sea.

People are fiercely citing numbers in offline and online debates. What is worse, people dying from the virus or those succumbing to hunger? What’s more alarming, the growing rate of positive cases or the spike in unemployment data reported by the Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy.

There are layers to this poor vs. rich, privileged vs. disadvantaged contest. Let me add to the imbroglio. But before I do that, here’s a disclaimer. This is a losing battle.

Either way, no one wins. It’s really about softening certain blows and developing a response system for different kinds of crisis.

Economically weaker sections are possibly the worst hit. The media is continuously reporting cases to emphasise their plight, given no work, money, food or shelter. Read more

Is Coronavirus also inflicting some life lessons at us?

By Shruti Pushkarna

It’s been a month since the Indian government announced the official lockdown to prevent the spread of Covid-19. People’s daily conversations now include casual mentions of a pre- and a post-corona world. We are slowly becoming accustomed to a ‘new normal’. It seems that nature has hit the ‘pause’ button on all our plans.

I’m reminded of my grandfather’s favourite phrase, “Man proposes, God disposes”. Never have those words rung so loud in my ears.

Negative sentiments are on the rise, as every news item seems to bring us closer to doomsday. Of course with the exception of promising research and recovering numbers. Read more

Does the Current Crisis call for Greater Social Responsibility?

By Shruti Pushkarna

Locked up in their homes, some people are busy forwarding irrational WhatsApp messages, propagating panic via unreliable information. Some are busy competing for a bigger Instagram audience through culinary exhibits or workout videos. And then there are some who simply sit and criticise the ‘other’, including administration, media, politicians, other countries, liberals, bhakts, Muslims, Christians, their next door neighbors and possibly even their pets!

While a person might be struggling to stay alive because of a chronic condition in the absence of a caretaker to assist her or him due to the lockdown, another’s problems hover around having to do dishes or cook their own food.

People are oblivious to each other’s realities. Even at a point of being universally hit by coronavirus, we only care for ourselves or at most our immediate family. That’s how selfish we all are. We don’t pay heed to what’s happening to a daily wager, a blind hawker, a disabled orphan, a thalassaemia patient, a paraplegic or anyone who’s more vulnerable than us. Read more

Coronavirus crisis: Have we Overlooked the Disabled Population?

By Shruti Pushkarna

In my last column when I raised a question on whether the media really cares about the disabled population, I didn’t know two weeks later, we would face a more pertinent issue of whether the country is bothered about anyone with a disability in this time of crisis.

Coronavirus has left the entire world panicking today. I’m not going to cite any numbers as there is enough data floating around the internet past few weeks. In fact, it’s exhausting to follow all the reports, statistics and even worse, speculation. Grounded in their homes, people are pulling out all kinds of conspiracy theories behind this global pandemic.

Some imaginable, some outrageous, some totally inane. But underneath all of this, is a feeling of deep anxiety that no one is safe anywhere. Vulnerability is at the root, leaving all human beings equally exposed to an unknown enemy. Read more

Does the Indian media really care about the disabled?

By Shruti Pushkarna

As I write this column with the intention of drawing attention to a large section of Indian population that lives on the margins of our society, I am thinking to myself: Does Anyone Care.

Does the media care? Do parents of ‘able’ children care? Do the politicians or bureaucrats care? Do schools and universities care? Do businesses care? Does the average individual care? And the resounding answer to all these questions is ‘probably not enough’. Not enough to bring about a revolutionary change in the way persons with disabilities lead their lives or how we treat them.

The other day I was at an event where mental illness and acid attack cases were being discussed. As I heard stories of survivors, of individuals and institutions working towards their rehabilitation, it occurred to me that people who are affected by the issue at some personal level are the only ones attempting to drive ‘change’. Their pain translates into a passion to alleviate the suffering of others.

While effective work continues to happen in small pockets of the country, we need mass campaigns to alter the mindsets of the vast population of over 1.3 billion. In his first term, Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced the ‘Accessible India’ campaign in December 2015. He issued a mandate to make public spaces, transport as well as information and technology ‘accessible’ to persons with disabilities. Read more

What’s with the shallow news coverage on disability?

By Shruti Pushkarna

Last week, two headlines on the digital platforms of leading dailies caught my attention. One read, “Two blind HSC students find writers at the 11th hour”. And the second stated, “HSC exams: Finding writers a real test for some”.

Both these news stories highlight one of the most commonly faced problems by any blind student in India. Given their vision impairment, these students are dependent on ‘scribes’ to write their exams.

But before I get into talking about the myriad challenges of finding and dealing with scribes, let’s look at the recent news coverage.

While I was happy that the issue appeared on mainstream media, I was disappointed at the reportage. The stories lacked any indepth understanding of the issue. For an average reader who is absolutely unfamiliar with the issue, the news item merely touched upon how two visually impaired students in different parts of Mumbai were hassled hours before their examination. Though that’s a start for interest generation, the story ends with no detail or perspective on the matter.

Read more

Time to welcome Diversity in Radio?

By Shruti Pushkarna

As you read this, commercial and state-owned radio stations all across the world are celebrating this day on air. Yes, it’s World Radio Day today.

Surely a medium that has managed to stay relevant for over 120 years (since the first radio device was invented by Guglielmo Marconi in 1899) calls for celebration.

With new technology and increasing penetration, the content development business is more dynamic than ever. Radio too has been experimenting with various avatars when it comes to programming models or expansion on digital platforms.

But what hasn’t changed is its devoted listenership, which cuts across culture, age, ethnicity, gender, religion, economics and so on. I start my day with tuning in to my favourite station every morning as I drive to work. You can hear the radio blaring in the local chaiwallah’s shop (no reference to our dear PM here!). Cab drivers, hawkers, housewives, college students, senior citizens, all take in their daily diet of radio content.

Another ardent group of listeners are millions of visually impaired citizens living in different nooks of our country. Did you know that 20% of the global blind population resides in India? That’s around 63 million people according to the World Health Organisation. Read more

Listen up, Content Developers

By Shruti Pushkarna

At the risk of sounding self-aggrandising, I’d say I’m a fairly empathetic person. Even when I wasn’t working in the disability domain, I was reasonably conscious of the different needs of people. Not like I changed anything around me or was overly vociferous on such subjects, but at least I was ‘aware’.

And that’s what I want to talk about. Awareness.

In my experience, most people end up seeming insensitive towards persons with disabilities out of sheer ignorance. Not necessarily because they are ill-intentioned. Their fault simply lies in their lack of awareness about another’s challenges.

Our reactions stem from what we see and hear. If issues faced by disabled people, or solutions available for them or basic things like how to offer assistance to them becomes common knowledge, our society would score a lot better on the scale of ‘empathy’.

At the root of any change lies the ‘knowledge’ or ‘awareness’ of what is possible or how it can be made possible.

So how do we change this? Or let me ask, who can change this? Read more

Accepting change in an ever-changing world

By Shruti Pushkarna

When I was studying journalism, we were made to read three to four newspapers everyday as part of acquiring editorial skills. As a young girl in my early twenties, I would go from one class to another, catching up on the printed word in between breaks. It was almost romantic, the idea of print that is. One aspired to have a ‘byline’ in the reputed dailies.

But by the time I graduated, a lot had changed. The fascination with print was slowly replaced with 24×7 television news. Not that TV news didn’t exist earlier, but right at the time when I was applying for jobs, several new players entered the market.

A large part of my initial career was spent in television newsrooms. And then some years later, another shift happened, with digital journalism as the latest entrant in news media. Read more