How India’s Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act (RPWD) Affects Digital Accessibility

This article provides information about accessibility laws and regulations, but is not legal advice. You should consult a lawyer for advice on specific legal issues or problems.

India’s RPWD law plays a key role in protecting the rights of people with disabilities in the world’s most populous country. In this article, we review the RPWD, how it fits with India’s disabilities legislation and its most important provisions.

How does the RPWD fit in with India’s disability laws?

In India, the disability rights movement has been developing since 1970. The Persons with Disabilities (Equal Opportunities, Protection of Rights, and Full Participation) Act of 1995 [PDF] made notable progress in disability rights, particularly in the service and employment sectors. The Act reserves three percent of all government jobs for people with disabilities.

Like most large-scale pieces of accessibility legislation enacted after the mid-2000s, India’s Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act, 2016 (RPWD) began in the United Nations in 2007. India, among many other world countries – including Canada and the European Union — signed the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) [PDF] that year. The Convention has since pushed countries to create extensive disability guidelines. Because of the time required to create and enact laws, almost a decade passed until India released its legislation. The legislation covers a wide range of areas, from social security to education. In this article, however, we’ll focus on its impact on digital accessibility.

What are the important provisions of RPWD disability legislation?

The RPWD’s section on digital accessibility [PDF] is brief but still vital as part of a larger section covering general accessibility.

The section on digital accessibility covers access to information and communication technology, including the following guidelines:

  • All content available in audio, print and electronic media must be in an accessible format.
  • Persons with disabilities must have access to electronic media by providing audio description, sign language interpretation, and closed captioning.
  • Electronic goods and equipment which are meant for everyday use must be available in universal design.

In many accessibility laws, a given government affirms that organizations will need to become accessible, but the specific rules on how to do so come later (usually in a very similarly named document). India’s Rights of Persons with Disabilities Rules from 2017 is one such document. Section 15, “Rules for Accessibility,” fleshes out the declaration about an “accessible format” from the earlier legislation in two points:

  • (i) a website standard as specified in the guidelines for Indian Government websites, as adopted by Department of Administrative Reforms and Public Grievances, Government of India;
  • (ii) documents to be placed on websites shall be in Electronic Publication (ePUB) or Optical Character Reader (OCR) based PDF format

Per this rule, websites must follow the accessible format previously laid out for Indian government sites and documents must be put in specific formats.

Guidelines for Indian Government Websites

To understand these guidelines, we have to travel back to 2009, when the Indian government established the “Guidelines for Indian Government Websites (GIGW).” The GIGW continues to be updated and is now in its third version. Because the underlying guidelines are updated over time, this allows the Disabilities Rules from 2017 to adapt without revisions.

The GIGW is the most important substantive component of the Rules. Unlike other accessibility laws worldwide, the Rules don’t require conformity with WCAG.

While the GIGW certainly has similarities to WCAG, it covers more areas. Like WCAG, the GIGW covers web accessibility, but the GIGW also covers “quality” and “security.” GIGW 3.0, the latest update, includes topics such as:

  • Web accessibility.
  • Mobile app accessibility.
  • Cybersecurity (which is not in WCAG’s purview).
  • API Integration: “Intuitive page loading (using AI and analytics) based on user journey and user profile.”
  • CMS utilization.
  • Accessibility monitoring.

WCAG guidelines are constructed as a list of testable Success Criteria with explanations on how to address any failures. The GIGW, by contrast, is a list with the categories of benefit, government organization action, developer action, and evaluator action established for each item.

Penalties for Non-Compliance with RPWD

Like other large-scale accessibility laws, this legislation includes both rules and consequences for failure to abide these rules. Though these penalties were set under the original Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act, they apply to the later Rules and beyond. The penalties are financial, and there is extreme leeway with the amount of each fine. The penalties are divided by first offense or later offense:

  • First Offense – The penalty may be higher than 10,000 rupees (around 120 dollars).
  • Any Following Offense – The penalty may be between 50,000 rupees and 5 lakh rupees (around 600 dollars to 6000 dollars)

Additionally, like the Accessible Canada Act, the RPWD is very clear about responsibility.

  1. Both the company and the leaders of the company are held legally responsible.
  2. No one will be held responsible if someone could not reasonably be expected to know about the offense at their organization or if they were taking reasonable steps to prevent the offense.
  3. The leaders will be held responsible if the offense is due to neglect.

In a final clarification on penalties, the RPWD explains that if an action is illegal under both the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act and another law, the organization will be required to pay whichever has the higher penalty.

RPWD Deadline

The deadline to become accessible was in June 2019, and non-compliant websites are now potentially liable for the penalties outlined above.

Next Steps: Learn More About Ensuring Internet Accessibility

Providing an accessible website in any country is important not only for regulatory compliance, but for opening up your message to a wider audience, improving user experience, and protecting the reputation of your brand.

If you are interested in learning more about how to evaluate and improve accessibility across all of your digital assets, we encourage you to explore our resource center and take advantage of our free accessibility testing tools.

Whether you are just beginning your digital accessibility journey or looking to elevate your existing practices, TPGi is here to help. Please reach out to our team if you any questions about how to achieve a more accessible website.

Categories: Accessibility Strategy, Legal, World of Accessibility
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