01 September 2006 is the third anniversary of Disability News and Information Service (D.N.I.S.), India’s pioneering fortnightly online news service on disability. It is time to celebrate. Yet, it is a good time to pause and reflect on the journey so far. Chitra S. Shankar goes back in time to track the developments since its inception.
Information is power. All of us, or at least most of us are aware of this fact. When it comes to the disabled people of India, it is unfortunate that this vital power is mostly missing. Disabled people account for a whopping 6 to 7 per cent of the Indian population. Deprived of basic rights, they are mostly ignored by our policy makers even today, while making policy changes in critical sectors like health, education and transport. The Government of India and all other concerned development authorities have a mindset wherein disability, even in this era of economic globalisation, is viewed as a matter of charity rather than as a human rights issue.
To bring about a change in this dismal scenario and in order to help disabled people become productive members of the society, there is an urgent need for them to first be aware of their rights as well as the developments in areas of policy and legislation. D.N.I.S., in this sense was conceived by National Centre for Promotion of Employment for Disabled People (N.C.P.E.D.P.) as a tool that helps empower persons with disabilities by making them, their family members and the society at large aware of their rights. The vision of D.N.I.S. was to establish itself a single portal for information regarding disability and all developments in the disability sector in India. It was conceived as a portal that would be sourced by the mainstream media.
It was in 2000 that the idea of a disability news service was shared by N.C.P.E.D.P. for the first time with N.G.O.s in the disability sector in India. It got a cold reception and the idea was put on the back burner for the next two years. But the dream was realised in September 2003 when it finally took shape as D.N.I.S., Thus D.N.I.S. came out with the first issue on 01 September 2003.
The mission is to provide the right information on disability to the right people at the right time to facilitate a positive action, and set a national agenda for participation of persons with disability in nation building. With disability rapidly emerging as a rights movement in the country, the major aim of D.N.I.S. has been to set a national agenda for the policy makers, by disseminating information and creating awareness about the rights of disabled people. It has been trying to mobilise N.G.O.s, politicians, media, parents, disabled people, educationists, lawyers, architects, designers, town planners, and other civic bodies to create a disabled-friendly and barrier-free society.
D.N.I.S. is designed to be a pure news service, with editions published twice a month. One of the most commendable factors is that the software used is disabled-friendly. The site is compatible with speech reading programmes for visually disabled users. There are three levels of accessibility recognised by World Wide Web and D.N.I.S. meets the second level.
Each edition comprises 10 news stories, one feature article and one interview. Having realised over the first two years of its functioning, the need to increase the number of stories, features and interviews as there were major developments during certain fortnights, in 2005 an option for 5 additional news stories, one additional feature and one additional interview was added.
Again, as there were certain developments in the disability sector and in policy matters that needed to be reported immediately, we came up with the innovative idea of sending Flash/Breaking News to our readers. This helped us inform our readers, especially key people in the disability sector, on the particular development as and when it happened, which in turn helped them take necessary action right on time. The service has now established itself as a credible source and tool for advocacy and intervention among stakeholders, activists and persons with disabilities.
But any initiative, new or old needs to be reviewed from time to time to test its strength and also identify weaknesses or other problems that need to be sorted out in order to make it the best. More so for D.N.I.S. which is a totally new concept where the disability sector is concerned. Thus, after a year of its inception, in August 2004, the first Annual Review Meeting was held in Delhi. The one-day meeting was organised by N.C.P.E.D.P. with support from the European Community and (D.S.I.) Denmark.
Delegates included disability activists from various N.G.O.s across the country. Partner organisations and participants raised many relevant points and questions. Many suggestions were put forth on ways to make D.N.I.S. a more successful news service. Zonal Coordinators were identified for different zones so that they could collate all the information in their respective areas and send to D.N.I.S. But unfortunately, with the exception of the South Zone Coordinator, Vidya Sagar, Chennai which has been very active in providing timely information, and Shishu Sarothi, Guwahati, East Zone Coordinator, which has been active to some extent, not much information has been provided by other partners in India.
The following year (2005), the second Review Meeting was held to brainstorm with disability activists from across the country, on ways and means to improve D.N.I.S. so as to make it the best national news service on disability. By then we had come a long way and we realised that despite some milestones having been reached, the grand vision of turning it into a national news agency would need both time and a high degree of cooperation from within the disability sector. In order to completely succeed in the stated goals of D.N.I.S. of providing right information to the right people at the right time, to facilitate positive action, and also setting a national agenda for participation of persons with disability in nation building, there was much more to be done.
The Review Meeting thus dwelled a little on the progress and mostly on the challenges faced in the past two years by D.N.I.S. vis-à-vis countrywide information, resources, writers, etc., and on ways to overcome these challenges. The focus was on the partners who had a key role to play in providing timely and accurate information to D.N.I.S. so that the news does not become too Delhi-centric but is ‘national’ in the real sense of the word.
Open discussions were held regarding the content, coverage, quality and the long-term sustainability of the news service. One major issue that came up during the discussion was of enhancing the readership and free subscription of the service. The section focused on the action plan and strategy to improve the quality, coverage, reach and sustainability of the service. The participants almost unanimously suggested a long-term goal of making the service multi-lingual to increase its reach at the grassroots level. In response the D.N.I.S. team suggested taking up dissemination of printed copies of the fortnightly issue, and translation by regional and local stakeholders. Chennai-based Vidya Sagar is already following this process successfully. The participants also shared innovative means of popularising the service, ranging from placing a link on partner websites to printing of ads on bank invoices.
In order to ensure that D.N.I.S. becomes truly a national news service, state and district partners need to contribute to the information and news pool. Regional partners can encourage students, other disability N.G.O.s and the research community to contribute. Other sources could include documentation resource centres, newsletters and magazines.
Unfortunately all these grand ideas are yet to take shape, as we really need our partners to be active members in helping us achieve all that was discussed at the table. Moreover, Internet access is still a major problem, especially in rural India. Then the responsibility again lies on our partners to distribute printed copies of D.N.I.S. in their respective areas. While stating this we also realise that there are financial constraints where our partners are concerned. But we need to find ways to overcome these hurdles so that we succeed in our ultimate goal of equipping all disabled people, especially in rural India, to fight for their rights and lead a dignified life. After all, this is the sole aim of one and all in the disability sector!
Today, D.N.I.S. has about 2000 registered users and the number is increasing by the day. Registration is free. One of the goals is to make it self-sustaining. For it, we will have to make D.N.I.S. into a paid service. Since the concept is totally new, and the disability movement is still young, we may not have realised that dream yet, but we hope that it will happen in the near future with the help of our partners in making it a news service that is worth paying for!