Mobile technology could open new possibilities for people with disabilities.

On Monday, the School of Information hosted Dr. Samuel N. Mathew, executive director of the National Institute of Speech & Hearing and director of the Regional Institute of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation in Kerala, India, who delivered a lecture on access to technology for people with disabilities.

During the talk, Mathew highlighted the necessity of mobile technology platforms for improving the quality of life for people with disabilities in India. He said these platforms can be especially beneficial for the visually challenged, speech-impaired, hearing-impaired, those with limited cognition and agility impairment and people on the autism spectrum.

However, Mathew said implementing this kind of technology requires a different approach in India compared to in other countries.

“It’s not about trying to make things like here, but instead trying to do things that are applicable there,” he said. “The environment definitely has its constraints, but examining that and then applying technology is what will ultimately work.”

NISH, also based in Kerala, provides language and speech training for congenitally deaf students. Recently, the institute began providing higher education and granting degrees to these children.

Kevin Smith, a graduate student in the Information School, worked with NISH and Mathew this past summer to launch the website accesshub.org. The site is dedicated to providing policy information and services for people with disabilities in India.

Smith stressed that the website’s main goal is accessibility.

“Oftentimes in web development, accessibility isn’t necessarily on the forefront, and that’s something I think the School of Information and web designers can work on,” he said.

Mathew said Access Hub, along with other efforts to expand access to technology in India, could help break down cultural barriers. He said many people with disabilities believe they did something wrong in a previous life — a concept found in a number of faiths in India — to deserve their condition.

“Indian cultures and religions have their own explanations of disabilities,” Mathew said. “Our concern is more about empowering them today.”

Assistant Information Prof. Joyojeet Pal originally met Mathew at a conference and helped oversee the Global Information Engagement Project, an Information School partnership with international research, nonprofit and educational institutions.

“The access to technology in India is really lacking,” Pal said. “Even though there is a will to do it at a government level, the cost of technology makes it really difficult.”

Allyson Mackay, a graduate student in the Information School and one of the event’s organizers, said she wanted students to experience real-life applications to their studies.

“I hope students see that there’s a real connection between the work that they’re doing here and what they’re learning at the School of Information, and how they can impact different groups and not just a mainstream audience,” she said.

Mathew said his main goal is to change current cultural attitudes.

“Resignation as part of the culture is a barrier, and I want to change this to a ‘can-do’ attitude,” he said. “Using technology, this stereotype of ‘you are not capable’ for people with disabilities will change.”

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