The court of the Chief Commissioner for Persons with Disabilities (CCPD) on Wednesday ordered Practo, the online healthcare service provider, to make its website and app fully accessible for the disabled, affirming that legal requirements and guidelines on accessibility applied to private companies.
“This court recommends that Respondent No. 1, i.e. Practo Technologies Pvt. Ltd. shall comply with the government guidelines and shall make necessary modifications within 6 months and not later than 9 months from receiving the copy of this Recommendation-Order, to its app and other Information & Communication Technology platforms to make such platforms accessible for divyangjan (sic),” the order of Commissioner for PwD Upma Srivastava said.
The CCPD was hearing a complaint filed by a lawyer with 100% visual impairment, Rahul Bajaj, on March 22 regarding the website and app being inaccessible and not in compliance with accessibility standards. The complainant said the home screen of the app was unorganised and inaccessible with screen reading software, some buttons were not labelled and others had “nonsensical labels” like “tertiary half one image label”, the order stated. Mr. Bajaj also said Practo was not in compliance with Section 46 of the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (PwD) Act, 2016, which sets a two-year timeline for service providers “whether government or private” to provide services in accordance with Central government accessibility rules.
Practo filed a reply on June 14 denying the allegations, but expressing willingness to make its platform accessible for PwD, according to the order. During the hearing in the case on July 19, Practo asked for nine months to make the changes as it involved “severe engineering efforts”, the order said. Practo, through its lawyers, argued that it was not bound by the guidelines that require establishments to provide accessible services.
Referring to Section 46, the court said: “Mere reading of this Section leaves no doubt that the provision is applicable on private establishments as well.” The court also said that Rule 15 of the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Rules, 2017 made standards for physical environment, transport and ICT mandatory for every establishment.
Hearing on September 20
In its order, the CCPD also recommended that the Director-General of Health Services under the Health Ministry should ensure that Practo was accessible for PwD. The court said “considering the wider social aspect of the issue of accessibility”, it would hold a hearing on September 20 to monitor the implementation of the statutes related to accessibility.
Speaking to The Hindu on Friday, Mr. Bajaj, who is a co-founder of the not-for-profit Mission Accessibility, said the order had enormous potential to change the lives of PwD.
“The fight for digital accessibility is essentially for the disabled to be able to access products that others take for granted. It is not to be adversarial towards service providers, but rather to be solution-oriented,” he said.
A Practo spokesperson did not respond for request for comment as of writing on Friday evening. However, in response to a request for comment about the case on June 25, a Practo spokesperson had said: “We at Practo are committed towards our mission to make quality healthcare accessible and affordable to all. And with this commitment in mind, we have impacted the lives of 30 crore+ people so far, with a network of 1 lakh+ doctors. However, we also constantly strive to improve our offerings so that we are able to cater to all segments of the community. We understand the need of every person to have access to quality healthcare so that they can live healthier and longer lives and are focused on making that happen.”