Nirmita Narasimhan is a Programme Manager with the Centre for Internet and Society and works on policy research and advocacy related to IP reform and technology access for persons with disabilities. She was awarded the National Award for Empowerment of Persons with Disabilities by the President of India in recognition of her work in December 2010. Her work ranges from research and policy drafting and review to advocacy through campaigns, workshops etc.
Nirmita’s current work focuses on copyright reform, accessibility, engaging in international discussions on IP related instruments at the World Intellectual Property Organisation, working with disability organisations, governments and UN bodies in advocating for digital accessibility, promoting open access with the Government of India and other issues which are part of the policy space in ICT accessibility in India. Certain specific areas on which she has worked are formulation of the draft National Electronic Accessibility Policy (with the Department of Information Technology), reviewing the Indian Copyright Act and working towards amendments to the Act to include exceptions and limitations for the print challenged, working at a national level towards support of the World Blind Union treaty at the WIPO, organising workshops on web accessibility for web developers in different cities around the country, working towards making accessible materials available for the visually challenged, creating advocacy resources for disability organisations and policymakers on implementing different aspects of the UNCRPD related to ICT accessibility etc. Nirmita’s work can be viewed at www.cis-india.org. Nirmita has presented papers in international fora like the IGF and the Asia Pacific conference on mainstreaming ICT technologies which was held in Bangkok in August 2009. Her focus was primarily policy formulation for ICT and electronic accessibility. She has also contributed to the G3ICT -ITU e-accessibility toolkit for policymakers which was published on line in February 2010and was editor of its print handbook version which was released in Delhi in October 2010. Since then, Nirmita is also part of the G3ict editorial team. Nirmita participated in the Right to Read event held in the European parliament in May 2010 and participated in the UN expert committee on implementation of the UNCRPD with respect to ICT and electronic accessibility for persons with disabilities in developing countries in June 2010. Nirmita has prepared reports in the capacity of expert for ITU and UNESCO on accessible mobile telephony and accessible ICT for education in the Asia Pacific region.
Nirmita is also a proficient Karnatic classical music singer and has been giving performances for many years now.
What would you say are the most challenging and the most satisfying aspects of your work?
One of the most challenging aspects of my work has been to make people from diverse backgrounds realise the need for accessibility and take action on it. I often encounter ignorance about the needs of persons with disabilities and a lack of sensitivity to their need for independence and dignity. It is very difficult to remain objective when faced with attitudes that consider dependence on others as an inevitable side affect of disability, instead of trying to see how attitudes and procedures can be improved to encourage and support independence. Dealing with people who are closed to new ideas and bringing them to an intelligent comprehension of disability is a difficult task. Another really challenging aspect of my work has been to try and build consensus amongst different organisations to work together towards a common goal.
The most satisfying aspect of my work is seeing the value it provides to people and how lives will become better because of some change I have worked towards bringing about. For instance as a result of the Right to Read campaign, the parliamentary Standing Committee recognised that the proposed wording in the new draft copyright bill was discriminatory and recommended that the concerns of disability groups be taken on board. This amendment will open up the world of books and knowledge to approximately 70 million persons with disabilities in India. Similarly when the Government comes out with an electronic accessibility policy, it will mean that eventually 7000 government web sites will become accessible to persons using assistive technologies. Another example of satisfaction was when the USOF started a process for including persons with disabilities in their pilot project scheme.
What qualifications or certifications did you attain in order to reach your professional goals?
I have a Bachelors degree in law. But more than just qualifications or certifications, I have learnt and achieved mostly through my experience and interaction with people around me.
If there is one message you would like to convey to young women to encourage them to consider a profession in the ICT sector, what would it be?
ICT can truly be a great equalizer since it opens up limitless opportunities for persons with disabilities and the world to benefit from each other. As a person with a disability myself, I have experienced firsthand the transforming power of ICT in my life. Despite not having an ICT background to start with, today I am working in the field of ICT and Accessibility. One of the lessons I have learnt on my journey is that one should not be afraid of trying new things for fear of failure or be hesitant to ask for help in the course of one’s life. Failures and dependence upon people are a part of every person’s life and should not be construed as a sign of individual weakness or weakness stemming from disability. For many people around the world, ICT has made it possible to live more or less independently and participate on an equal basis with the rest of society. I strongly urge all girls and women to take up a career using ICT as it will prove to be an invaluable tool to live a more independent life.