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BarrierBreak: Shilpi Kapoor’s Assistive Technology Initiative

shilpi kapoor at her barrierbreak office
Alokita
Alokita | September 7, 2017 (Last update: July 14, 2022)

Alokita is a Polio Survivor. She overcame her disability and went on to become a commerce graduate. Alokita writes about disability issues and her appetite for learning new things is far from satiated.

This article is a part of the series about the special entrepreneurial start-ups that have been built on a social cause but not for a charitable purpose. These are the perfect examples of mixed economy, the fair blend of socialist and capitalist economy.

The Story of Developing Insight and Getting Motivated

Shilpi Kapoor was just a girl next door with a dream to achieve something in life without knowing what exactly this ‘something’ was for her. After completing her graduation she started her career as an exporter of silk furnishings. Like majority of the entrepreneurs she too failed in her endeavour. She failed so miserably in her attempts that she finally decided to give up on her exporting business.

Now it was time for her Plan-B.

After leaving the export business Shilpi turned towards technology. In the tech-field she started her career as a remote hacker for a US based company. She never knew that this job was going to overhaul not only her career but was also going to change her perspective towards life completely.

On a fateful day Shilpi managed to track a hacker even before her US based mentor. No doubt she was feeling happy for her achievement but was also surprised why her mentor took so much time. She asked her mentor about the reason of the unusual delay and the answer left her shocked as well as amazed. She came to know that her mentor depended on a ‘sip-and-puff’ device for his work.

ALSO READ: Inclov App, an inclusive match maker

Shilpi’s interaction with her mentor gave her a clear picture about the enabling and life-changing power of technology for persons living with disabilities. And that was the day she decided to enable the disabled persons with the help of technology.

The Actual Birth of Shilpi’s Brainchild: the BarrierBreak

After understanding the power of technology Shilpi was determined to enable the disabled. Being born and brought-up in India where working for disabled directly means doing charity; Shilpi too was naturally hit by the idea of charity. Fully confident in her idea and intention she started the first ever training center for the Visually Impaired.

But she had to eventually shut it down because she clearly felt that the idea of not-for-profit was not going to work for long.

shilpi kapoor at her barrierbreak office

With her past experiences and the expertise gained in the process Shilpi launched a for-profit venture that aimed to provide accessibility and assistive technology solutions to the persons living with disabilities. BarrierBreak aimed at opening doors of opportunities for PwDs by empowering them with technology and also by making organisations inclusive for all.

Vision and Mission of BarrierBreak

Shilpi launched her dream project BarrierBreak on three basic principles:

  • For-Profit – Her experience told her that the not-for-profit was not going to work well as it has neither much scope of expansion nor it was bringing any return for further investment. Her offer of opening computer training center for visually impaired persons on large scale was even turned down by the National Association for the Blind (NAB) stating that it was impossible.
  • Technology for the aid of Disabled – Discussion with her hacking mentor had given her the crystal clear picture about the importance of technology as an aid for persons with disabilities. She knew that she was going to provide her customer base with assistive technologies. She was also determined to work on R&D in the field of assistive technologies.
  • Making BarrierBreak an inclusive organisation – Shilpi was not only looking at the disabled community as her customer but also as her support system. She was determined to make her organisation inclusive by hiring persons with disabilities before going out in the world to share her views about inclusive workplace and society at large. BarrierBreak has always witnessed a set of employees with 70-75% of persons with disabilities.

As per the official website of BarrierBreak they aim at bridging the barriers between ability and accessibility. They dream of creating an inclusive society with equal opportunity for employment, education; and thus social life thus encouraging independent living among persons with disabilities.

The Needs Catered by BarrierBreak

BarrierBreak caters to almost all assistive and technological needs of a person with disability. In their own words BarrierBreak removes ‘information discrimination’ by transforming e-space and providing other sorts of technological help. Services provided by BarrierBreak can be roughly categorized in these major groups.

  • Assistive Technology Products – BarrierBreak provides with a range of products under the umbrella of Assistive Technology to assist persons with disabilities to lead a life of equal participation and independent living. These aids are designed with the motto to make life easier for PwDs at home, in school or college and at their workplace. Their product range includes
    • Low Vision Aids
    • Screen Readers and Magnification Software
    • Accessible Format Tools
    • Adaptive Keyboards
    • Mouse Alternatives
    • Communication Aids
  • Accessibility Testing – This service aims at organisations or individuals who are keen to make their websites and mobile applications accessible in order to reach a larger base of audience. BarrierBreak provides assistance in making and developing Web pages, Sites and applications with compliance to Section 508, WCAG 2.0 and ADA Standards and guidelines. The accessibility testing team of BarrierBreak provides:
    • Products assessment and Evaluation
    • Real test of the product executed by persons using assistive technologies
    • Analysis of the Barrier faced by users including PwDs
    • Detailed report of accessibility vulnerability
  • Accessible Documents – With their E-text services BarrierBreak ensures that books and documents are made in such a way that they ensure their reach to the widest range of audience that includes persons with disabilities. They work towards making brochures, user-manuals, corporate documents, e-books etc interactive, readable and accessible in PDF and EPUB3 formats. These documents are accessible to all including persons with print-disability.
  • Accessible Media – BarrierBreak works towards making videos reachable to the vast audience including senior citizens, people with disabilities and those having language barriers. They ensure this accessibility of news, promotional, educational and entertainment videos by providing captions, audio description as well as sign language interpretations. They also work for meeting legal requirements of different countries by providing equal access.
  • Workshops – BarrierBreak organizes customized workshops for organizations, NGOs, Government institutions and group of parents to impart the knowledge about accessibility and the practical know-how about its implementation. They cater to the needs of a company wishing to make their workplace accessible and hiring PwDs. In their workshops they give the participants a simulated experience of being a person with disabilities.

Extension and Initiatives by BarrierBreak

The success of BarrierBreak and the recognition it gave to Shilpi Kapoor motivated her to take her initiative to further levels. She extended the area covered by BarrierBreak and made other initiatives in the field of technology and disability. There are four major initiatives pioneered by the BarrierBreak.

Learning@BarrierBreak

BarrierBreak offers online learning courses related to disability and accessibility to every level of expertise. These online accessibility training courses are self-paced. The courses are designed to give the learner in-depth knowledge and understanding about disability, accessibility, assistive technology and standards and guidelines related to disability. The courses are useful for a variety of professionals including

  • Developers
  • Designers
  • Software Testers
  • Diversity and Inclusion Professionals
  • Human Resource Managers
  • Special Educators

Newz Hook

Newz Hook, the News for Disabled in India, is the India’s first news channel that focuses basically on news related to disability. The channel is accessible for visually impaired persons and the one using screen readers. It also promotes news in sign language for the deaf. The news website also has a corner for ‘events’ where information about upcoming events for PwDs are highlighted.

Techshare India

The Techshare India is also an initiative of BarrierBreak which organizes conferences and exhibitions at International and Pan-India level. It aims at bringing awareness about assistive technology and accessibility. It is sponsored by giants like Microsoft, Google, Accenture, Adobe, Wipro, Pearson and many more leading organisations.

Global Elevate Awards

BarrierBreak also organizes Global Elevate Awards to give recognition to accessible innovations that makes life easier for persons with disabilities and senior citizens. The award recognizes innovations as products and services. The categories for awards are:

  • Financial
  • Transportation
  • Healthcare
  • Media and Entertainment
  • Web
  • Education
  • Students Initiatives
  • Assistive Technology
  • Made in India

BarrierBreak is breaking all the barriers in real sense. We hope Shilpi and her supporters achieve the high target they have set for themselves. We hope India to become an Inclusive nation by breaking all the barriers of inaccessibility for its citizens with disability.

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