The Court of Chief Commissioner for Persons with Disabilities on Wednesday directed Practo, an online healthcare service provider, to make its website and app fully accessible for the disabled and also affirmed that legal requirements and guidelines on accessibility apply to private companies as well.
From a combined reading of Sections 40 and 46, the Court observed that it becomes clear that private establishments which are providing information & technology services are bound to make their services and infrastructure accessible for divyangjan in accordance with Sections 40 and 46 Rights of Persons with Disabilities Rules, 2017.
A Complaint was filed against the 1st respondent, a private company which is an online healthcare service provider, and the averment of the Complainant was that the app developed by the private company 'Practo' is not accessible for a person with visual impairment because of various accessibility barriers.
The Complainant contended that the 1st respondent violated Section 46 of the RPwD Act and Rule 15 of the RPwD Rules and sought for directions to conduct an accessibility audit of the app called 'Practo' and submit an Accessibility Audit Report along with a statement of remedial actions within three months.
1st respondent expressed their willingness to make the app accessible for all sought time of 9 months to achieve the target because the task involves 'severe engineering efforts.'
When the matter was taken up for hearing, the 1st respondent submitted that though they are ready to make necessary modifications and changes in its app; however, raised two contentions. Firstly, it is not bound by the guidelines which require establishments to provide service in accordance with the rule on accessibility. Secondly, there are no government guidelines which can be followed on this point. Hence, the 1st respondent lacks direction in which it has to proceed.
However, the Court was not inclined to accept the contention raised by the 1st respondent and observed that from the mere reading of Section 46 of Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act, 2016, it is clear that the provisions are applicable to private establishments as well and the term 'whether government or private' used in the provisions leaves no room for debate whether this provision is applicable on private establishments or not.
Further, Section 40 provides that the appropriate government shall formulate rules laying down standards of accessibility for divyangjan on various kinds of services and infrastructure which is provided to the public, which is inclusive of 'information & technology including appropriate technologies and systems.
Therefore, from a combined reading of Sections 40 and 46, the Court observed that it becomes clear that private establishments which are providing information & technology services are bound to make their services and infrastructure accessible for divyangjan in accordance with Sections 40 and 46.
The Court further points out that Rule 15 of Rights of Persons with Disabilities Rules, 2017, imposes the responsibility on every establishment to comply with the standards relating to the physical environment, transport and information and communication technology and a private establishment is included in the definition of 'establishment' under the legislation.
Rule 15 in sub-rule(2) entrusts respective ministries and departments with the responsibility to ensure that the standards of accessibility have been complied with. In the present case, the Court observed that the Director General of Health Services (2nd Respondent) is the department which is entrusted to look into affairs relating to health services. Hence, it cannot shift its responsibility to the Ministry of Information & Technology. During the hearing, the 2nd respondent shifted from the stand it had taken and submitted before the Court that it is ready to take the responsibility to ensure that Rule 15 is followed by the 1st respondent.
The Court, while rejecting the contention of the 1st respondent that there is an absence of guidelines and there is no direction to move forward, pointed out that there are various guidelines like Guidelines for Indian Govemment Websites ("GIGW') and notification issued by Bureau of Indian Standards in place which have to be complied by the respondent.
Thereby, the Court recommended that the 1st respondent, Practo Technologies Pvt Ltd., shall comply with the government guidelines and shall make necessary modifications within six months and not later than nine months to its app and other information and communication technology platforms to make such platforms accessible for the disabled people.
Further, the Court recommended that the 2nd respondent, Director General of Health Services, shall ensure that the 1st respondent fulfilled its duty under Rule 15(2) and ensure that the platform of the 1st respondent is accessible to disabled people.
Before parting, the Court, considering the wide social aspect of the issue of accessibility, decided to take cognizance of the issue of non-accessibility and therefore decided to hold another hearing on 20th September 2022 to monitor the implementation of Section 40 and 46 of RPwD Act,2016 and Rule 15 of RPwD Rules,2017.
Case Title: Rahul Bajaj v. Director, Practo Technologies Pvt. Ltd. & Ors.