Facts of the case
Practo Technologies Pvt Ltd (Practo) offers an online platform that enables online booking for medical consultations at over 9,000 hospitals. It also delivers services like enabling online medicine delivery by a network of pharmacies. A Complaint was filed by Rahul Bajaj (Complainant) a visually impaired lawyer against Practo. The grounds of the complaint was that the Practo app is not accessible for a person with visual impairment and that the Complaint faced the following challenges:
a) The home screen is unorganized and inaccessible with a screen reading software;
b) The second page is unlabelled and inaccessible,
c) Results obtained after providing inputs are inaccessible, and
d) The app randomly crashes of its own accord
The Complainant contended that Practo has failed to comply with the provisions of Section 46 of the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act, 2016 (RPwD Act) read with RPwD Rule 15. Practo denied the allegations in the complaint but expressed willingness to make the app accessible to people with special needs within 9 months’ time.
The Court of Chief Commissioner analysed Section 40 and 46 of the RPwD Act read with Rule 15.
a) website standard as specified in the guidelines for Indian Government websites, as adopted by Department of Administrative Reforms and Public Grievances, Government of India;
b) documents to be placed on websites shall be in Electronic Publication (ePUB) or Optical Character Reader (OCR) based pdf format.
On consideration of the above provisions, Court of Chief Commissioner observed that:
a) Private establishments like Practo providing information & technology services are bound to make their services and infrastructure accessible for Divyangjan in accordance with the provisions of the RPwD Act and respective Rules.
b) There are government guidelines such as Guidelines for Indian Government Websites ("GIGW') and Bureau of Indian Standards notifications on the matter of accessibility of website, apps and other technology platforms which must be complied by Practo.
The Court of Chief Commissioner recommended that:
(i) Practo should comply with the law and make necessary modifications to its Application within six months and not later than nine months
(ii) Other technology platforms must be accessible for the disabled people, and Directorate General of Health Service, to ensure that Practo complies with the law
Court of Chief Commissioner has also scheduled another hearing on September 20, 2022 by taking cognizance under Section 75 (1) (h) of RPwD Act which enable him to monitor the implementation of the provisions of this Act and schemes, programs meant for PwD.
Pacta’s Analysis on the Impact of the Order
A. On State Commissioners. The Order passed by the Court of Chief Commissioner in this case will be binding on all other State Commissioners. Section 88 of the RPwD Act vests with the State Commissioners the power to monitor the implementation of the RPwD Act. Therefore, the State Commissioners can take suo motu steps to oversee the implementation of the Act by various establishments including online platforms and take appropriate actions in case of noncompliance. Advocacy organizations can also leverage this decision to obtain accessible websites and web-applications in other states.
B. On Other Online Services. Section 46 imposes a duty on all service providers whether governmental or private to provide services in accordance with the rules on accessibility formulated by the Government. By extension, all service providers which provide consumer products and services online would be expected to comply with RPwD rules to make their User Interface accessible to people with disabilities.
This includes banking and finance apps ( BHIM, Paytm, YONO), mobility solutions (Uber, Ola), Food Delivery (Swiggy, Zomato), medicine delivery (Apollo Pharmacy, 1MG), marketplace apps (Amazon, Flipkart), ed-tech solutions (Byjus, Khan Academy) and even government services such as application for Aadhar card/passport and other government services. Several apps such as Uber, Swiggy, Amazon, Khan Academy are already accessible to Divyangjan.
Towards enabling inclusion of Divyangjan, for enabling them to participate fully and effectively in society, the Government has been taking several law and policy initiatives. Recently, the Government has released a new Draft Policy for Persons with Disabilities (Divyangjan), 2021 which identifies various areas for intervention, such as, early identification and prevention, education, skill development, social security, disaster management etc. The Draft policy stresses the need to create a barrier free environment for Divyangjan and envisages that all local building bye-laws, passenger buses, railway and metro coaches, airports, etc. should have accessibility features available for Divyangjan. Further the draft policy also envisages setting up a common online platform for registering complaints with an automatic forwarding mechanism to respective Commissioners. Once this feature is available, it will enable PwD to obtain speedy grievance redressal.