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.

The reason I’m laying all this background is actually to highlight the most important thing that was occurring through these years. The values were changing. Values we attached to reporting, production, editing, scripting, everything rapidly transitioning given the advancing technology. Every medium had its pros and cons and content was being tailored to make the most of new platforms.

Another notable thing happened. Amidst all this change, technology opened up the ‘elite journalism club’ to an average inquisitive mind. Barring the self-aggrandising old school journalist in me (who by the way scoffs at the new generation, like most old gens do), I find myself pleasantly surprised by the mechanisms and devices being used to put out newsworthy content for mass consumption.

That is the power and nature of technology. It creates a level-playing field. The old versus new kind of debate takes place in every domain. When I transitioned from mainstream media to the development sector, my work in the domain of visual impairment brought many such examples to light.

People working to rehabilitate persons with blindness are obsessed with the braille script. And that’s the common societal understanding as well. Anyone who is blind needs a braille script. Not true.

Let me bust a few myths here.

Every blind person does not know how to read and write using the braille script.

There are people who acquire blindness at a later age and never get acquainted with braille.

Braille embossing is time consuming and an expensive effort.

Writing in braille takes much longer than keying the same content into a computer.

Braille is useful to interact with fellow visually impaired people who can interpret it. In a mainstream classroom or a work scenario, it is limiting and distances blind people from their sighted counterparts.

So what is this obsession with braille? It’s the same sense of denial that new technology cannot throw open newer options that may undercut the skills possessed by existing braille users.

Visually impaired people can easily co-exist in an inclusive environment, given the vast variety of technological aids available today.

Blind people can use screen reading software that reads out everything displayed on a computer screen or a mobile phone to interact with the device. They can type, browse, read, do almost everything with ease just like you and me.

So in schools/ colleges, students with vision impairment can submit their assignments in a digital format (anyway most private schools are insistent on the use of technology these days). The government has laid down clear guidelines for reasonable accommodation in case a blind student wants to write exams using computers.

This also opens up a whole new range of professions for persons with vision impairment. Let’s take the media industry for starters. Not long ago, I’d engaged with a graduate in mass communication from Bengaluru who was applying for a job in radio. There are journalists working in national media who happen to be visually impaired. Disability activists are efficiently using social media to advocate for their rights. Leaving out the very ‘visual’ jobs, many desk roles in the industry can be opened up to blind people simply by adopting technological solutions.

Braille is ‘exclusive’ in the way it isolates visually impaired people to one medium of communication. Technology however is ‘inclusive’ as it makes the existing platforms of communication accessible to anyone with an impairment.

It’s time to drop our fixation with a script that was invented in 1821, two centuries ago! No doubt it was a brilliant discovery to serve the needs of people back then, but let’s face it, equally exciting innovations are happening in this day and age. It’s time we embrace technology for its ability to enable access for all users irrespective of their limitations.