U-M students create new portal for disability resources in India

Caitie Goddard, Kevin Smith and Elyse Guilfoyle with project collaborators from the National Institute of Speech and Hearing (India).

Disabled individuals in India will have a new free source of information for disability-related services with the launch of a website designed by a team of University of Michigan students in collaboration with the National Institute of Speech and Hearing (NISH). The National Institute of Speech and Hearing is a non-profit institution dedicated to the rehabilitation of speech and hearing-impaired persons across the state of Kerala, India.

Dr. M.K. Muneer, Honorable Minister for Panchayats and Social Justice, Government of Kerala, will release the website, AccessHub.org, at a ceremony on June 25 alongside the U-M and NISH project team. Also partnering on the project are the Centre for Internet & Society in Bangalore and Inclusive Planet in Chennai.

Since arriving in Trivandrum, India in mid-May, graduate students Elyse Guilfoyle and Kevin Smith of the University of Michigan School of Information (UMSI) and Caitie Goddard at the Ford School of Public Policy have been working with team leader Dr. Anne Varghese and others at NISH to update policy information, conduct usability testing and build the Access Hub site. The students developed the site in Ann Arbor during the previous six months under the guidance of UMSI Assistant Professor Joyojeet Pal.

AccessHub.org will operate as a free web resource that offers users several features such as up-to-date disability news within India, a forum to discuss disability-related matters, a localized disability service search facility, and disability policy information at the state, territory, and national levels.

Unlike other disability resources available online, AccessHub.org contains details of localized disability services and maintains a database that allows users to filter information by location and disability type. The site gives users the ability to find, rate and comment on disability services providers from any state in India.

AccessHub.org is designed with accessibility features like text-size manipulation and a high-color contrast theme that make the website easier to understand, navigate and contribute to for users with disabilities. The group worked with the Kerala Federation for the Blind during usability testing to build these features and ensure the site’s content and layout were user-friendly for persons with vision impairments. This also led to the development of a software-driven screen reader function that makes Access Hub accessible for blind and visually-impaired users.

As Access Hub grows and builds an active community of disability experts, service providers, and other dedicated users, its resources and information base could provide significant value to India’s disabled community.

Dr. Muneer offered congratulations to the team and noted the need for resources like Access Hub that can deliver essential information to underserved communities. NISH will be responsible for updating information and administering the site on a continuing basis.

The Access Hub resource was developed through UMSI’s Global Information Engagement Program (GIEP). Student teams from the school and other University graduate programs spend one semester studying and creating plans to address an identified information challenge with high social impact value. They then implement their plans on site over several weeks working with organizations in India. Six teams of 3-4 students each are currently engaged in GIEP projects in India.

Posted on June 24, 2014