WhatsApp leads the way in digital accessibility in India- the only app to rank ‘highly accessible’ for persons with disabilities

WhatsApp has been ranked India’s most accessible app for persons with disabilities, according to a recent report titled ‘Making the Digital Ecosystem Disabled Friendly,’ which evaluated the most popular apps across categories like messaging, online payments, transport, e-commerce and food delivery.

The Vidhi Centre for Legal Policy along with I-Stem and Mission Accessibility conducted a first of its kind evidence-based evaluation of the accessibility of ten of the most widely used apps in India. WhatsApp emerged as the only app that was rated as ‘highly accessible’ based on the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) which serve as the global benchmark for determining if, and to what extent, a website is disabled friendly. Other apps audited in the report include PhonePe, PayTM, Swiggy, Zomato, Amazon, Flipkart, Telegram, Uber and Ola.

The following table summarizes the total Number of accessibility violations identified for each of the ten apps across the Android and iOS platforms:

The top ten identified applications were rated as apps with ‘high accessibility’, ‘moderate accessibility’ and ‘low accessibility’ based on the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG). The thresholds for these categories are determined based on the number of WCAG success criteria at level A compliance level, and are set at <=30, 30-60 and >60. WhatsApp meeting over 60 was thus rated as the only app with ‘high accessibility’.

 Co-author of the report, Rahul Bajaj, Senior Associate Fellow – Vidhi, Co-Founder – Mission Accessibility, practicing lawyer in the High Court of Delhi and the Supreme Court of India, said: “Apps and websites have enormous potential to empower the disabled. If they are not designed with their needs in mind, however, they can replicate the barriers the disabled otherwise face. With this report, we hope that more consumer apps emerge as ‘highly accessible’ as WhatsApp has and that this rating index serves as a positive impetus for developers to acknowledge these considerations and adopt adequate measures to improve accessibility in their digital products and services. I also think that it is no mere coincidence that the only app developer covered in the index which sent a representative for the report launch was WhatsApp and WhatsApp was the only app that was ranked as being highly accessible. It shows that accessibility does not happen automatically; it must be a function of proactive and thoughtful actions.”

Over the years, WhatsApp has invested in continuous product innovations to enhance user experience, and make the app more inclusive and simple, with an aim of making private messaging easy and accessible to all. Features like voice notes, reactions, video calling make WhatsApp a preferred messaging platform but its reliable, simple and easy to use interface also make it one of the first digital gateways for millions of Indians, facilitating access to essential digital services and delivering solutions ranging from education, healthcare, banking, insurance, among many others. Over the years, WhatsApp’s platform has also emerged as a powerful tool for scaling social impact across underserved communities, especially at the grassroots level bringing them into the main fold of India’s digital revolution. 

The COVID pandemic accelerated the use of technology and made tech-based solutions, for meeting our everyday needs, a routine feature of our lives. The need for digital products and services to become more inclusive and disabled friendly has, therefore, assumed even greater significance. From ordering food to groceries, from finding a partner to socializing, from consulting doctors to booking flight and train tickets – we use technology for a whole range of everyday activities.

The core premise driving the report is that digital accessibility is a right, not a matter of charity, and most consumer facing apps must be cognizant of the role they play across multiple societal segments. In addition to the all-pervasive role technology plays in today’s digital-first world, every service provider in India, whether government or private, is mandatorily expected to make their services disabled friendly under the Right of Persons with Disabilities Act, 2016.

Based on the findings the authors of the report suggest that in order to create a truly inclusive digital ecosystem, websites and apps need to ensure they are designed in compliance with WCAG or Bureau of Indian Standards (BIS) standards. It is important to recognise accessibility by design and to incorporate it into any technological output intended for public use.

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