Innovate for Accessible India launched to harness the power of technology to empower people with disabilities

Innovate for Accessible India launched to harness the power of technology to empower people with disabilities

Microsoft India and NASSCOM Foundation today announced the launch of the Innovate for Accessible India campaign in partnership with the Department of Empowerment of Persons with Disabilities (DEPwD), Ministry of Social Justice & Empowerment, Department of Science & Technology (DST), Ministry of Science and Technology and ERNET (National Research and Education Network under MeitY).

Innovate for Accessible India is a nation-wide innovation challenge aimed at empowering people with disabilities with the technology and tools required for better integration into society and access to equal opportunities. The campaign will be an aggregator of workable technology solutions developed using Microsoft Cloud, Artificial Intelligence and other technologies that address gaps faced by people with disabilities, especially in acquiring services and support in education, skill building, employment, mobility, rehabilitation and other government services.

The campaign will invite applications from students, citizens and social impact organizations to build customized solutions that address challenges faced by people with disabilities across the 21 officially recognized disabilities. The key areas of focus that developers are encouraged to address include mobility, e-governance and access, education, skilling and livelihood and health. Applicants can send in their ideas to https://iai.nasscomfoundation.org/, on or before April 15, 2020.

Speaking about the launch, Anant Maheshwari, President, Microsoft India, said, “With over a billion people around the world living with some form of disability, it is critical that we find new ways to use technology to enable everyone to fully participate in the socio-economic environment around us. Innovate for Accessible India presents an amazing opportunity to bring new ideas for building an inclusive future. Using the power of Microsoft Cloud, Artificial Intelligence and other technologies, developers can create products and solutions in the areas of education, skilling, employment, mobility and other citizen services for greater accessibility. We are very excited to partner on this effort and look forward to some ground-breaking ideas.”

The applications will be screened by a jury consisting of top subject matter experts, in cross-city pitch sessions, of which 10 ideas will be selected as the winning innovations. After a six month screening process, finalists will be provided support for another six months to roll out their solutions in the market.

The 10 best solutions that address key challenges faced by people with disabilities will be provided mentoring support by Microsoft and NASSCOM Foundation, along with grants to develop and scale their solution. The winning innovations stand to win a grant of INR 10 lakhs each in the established projects category (pilot testing with a group of more than 25 beneficiaries) and a grant of INR 5 lakhs each in the early stage category (working prototype tested by less than 25 people).

Ashok Pamidi, CEO – NASSCOM Foundation, said, “We may soon be able to replace braille dots with electrostatic charges allowing the visually impaired to use touch screen smartphones; facial recognition software coupled with home assistants may now help reveal who else is in the room; sounds and vibrations may be used to tell if there is danger ahead and with IoT, the objects may soon be able to describe themselves. We are living in exciting times where innovative technology solutions can finally make the world better for persons with disabilities. With Innovate for an Accessible India, we hope to capture all possible tech-based innovations that can make the lives of people with disabilities easier. We are grateful to Microsoft to provide an opportunity to all innovators working in the accessibility space to scale up their solutions using grants and mentorship and are thankful to Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment, Dept. of Technology and ERNET to support this initiative wholeheartedly.”

Speaking on the occasion, Smt. Shakuntala Doley Gamlin, Secretary, Department of Empowerment of Persons with Disabilities, Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment, said, “In line with the Accessible India campaign, which is a flagship programme of the Department launched by the Hon’ble Prime Minister as a nation-wide campaign for achieving universal accessibility for persons with disabilities, with a vision to build an inclusive society in which equal opportunities are provided for the growth and development of persons with disabilities so that they can lead a productive, safe and dignified life, the Ministry will provide guidance and awareness to the program to keep it aligned to the disability policy framework and the department’s vision to empower persons with disabilities with equal access and opportunity.”

Dr. Neeraj Sharma, Advisor and Head, NEB Division, Department of Science and Technology, MST, said, “DST has been supporting public-private partnership programs on idea scouting and start-up promotion. Programs like IAI strike a deep chord with us given our role in promoting science and technology to develop solutions, products and services to address challenges faced by the masses. The IAI program will offer workable solutions that can address problems faced by the differently abled and help in acquiring services and support in the areas of education, skill building, employment, mobility, rehabilitation etc. The program will integrate entrepreneurship, business thinking, design thinking, mentoring and other support activities to address challenges and have affordable and sustainable solutions.

Smt. Geeta Kathpalia, Director General, Education and Research Network (ERNET), Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeITY), said, The most important element for the success of any program is ownership and acceptance of the cause. ERNET owns the program for working solutions for accessibility. Accurate research and access to information are critical when developing any good solution. We, at ERNET, will help consult, select and mentor the Innovate for Accessible India finalists as well as provide the much needed research support and guidance. Additionally, we will also help spread the message and crowd source innovations amongst our extensive network.”