Episode 12 The Inclusivity Introduction: Crafting Accessible Products, For All!

On this weeks edition of Thoughtcast by Onething, Divanshu sits down with Upasana Makati, the co-founder of WhitePrint, India’s first English lifestyle magazine, printed entirely in Braille. Having made it’s debut in 2013, WhitePrint aims to bring the world of culture to an entirely new audience, the visually impaired!
Besides resources for the blind, Upasana breaks down the need for accessibility in the world of design, and beyond! She envisions a reality wherein people with all kinds of impairments, not just visual, can use tools and techniques curated by others to experience the world in a more holistic manner. Furthermore, she goes on to share some heartwarming interactions she had with readers of her magazine, and how she opened up their world far beyond what they had ever imagined.
For all things accessibility, and to learn more about Upasana’s journey, don’t miss this weeks Thoughtcast by Onething.

Episode Transcript

Hey, everyone. Welcome to another episode of Thoughtcast by Onething today, we have Upasana, with us, who’s the founder at white print. Some of you might’ve heard about a concept called as accessibility, but, very few of us actually have kind of worked in that direction. Upasana is one such rare person that, you know, we kind of came across and what she’s building.

Something that I would say very revolutionary and very challenging because she’s trying to bring our world closer to people who are visually impaired and make them access information the way we do, in my opinion, the way people are, the way people react to, you know, accessibility is, that they, they don’t think that it is important or they don’t think it should be mainstream because I think they are not experienced in it.

But if somebody who has experienced it, and if you speak to that person, or if you have any kind of, you know, a disability, if you speak to that person, you realise that what kind of, what they kind of go through. Empathy is something that we need to build in our, processes as designers to, you know, solve their problems.

So, without kind of digging much into what we going to talk about, I’ll welcome Upasana, to the, to the episode and, great to kind of, have you here and love to know more about you, how it happened to you. What is the story behind why. Thank you so much. And thank you for having this conversation because I think it is very, very relevant in today’s time.

And, mainstream is, you know, is the right word you use because that’s what I’ve been trying to do since the past eight years being this mainstream and removed, the conversation from the whole aspect and lens of child. Yeah. So a white print happened to me eight years ago in 2013. I love reading newspapers.

I think, even if it’s 10 minutes, you’re just going through it. I love that habit and I, and I really enjoyed, I don’t know why, but I thought about it one day. What is it that persons with blindness do, you know, early in the morning, you know, and of course immediately looked up the web, they find anything.

And then when you look up, what is the population of persons of blindness in India? It sort of opens you up. Even for the, it’s about 15 million, right. And your census does not even account for the actual figure. That is when I decided, and you know, did a lot of research between months spoke to people, you know, try and reach out to more people.

Community to find out why this did not exist earlier. I just want to understand. Right. And it’s always, I would go to people, they’d be like, oh, now that you’re bringing that taught you, make sure you implement it. Right. And, that’s what led me to, you know, quit my job. I started as, in 2013 as India’s first English, lifestyle magazine and bill, and it’s a monthly magazine.

And it’s primarily any kind of content that decided at anybody’s volume for choice, be it in print digital in any format in real, which is a format. First in the blindness can zeal content apart from consuming it from the district board. So it’s, it’s my idea is coexistence because, decided don’t choose, uh, only digital decided don’t choose only print.

We co-exist with mediums. Right? That’s the whole idea of like, that’s great. I mean, you know, reading a newspaper and then coming with a thought, which is. You’re not trying to change the way things are done. Not everybody kind of wakes up with that thought as humans, we don’t want to live in something that doesn’t belong to or where we don’t belong.

So, you know, brilliant thought there. So where does it know, what kind of content, does it capture and how are you using, you know, the success of white print into other, publications that you have? Yeah, very interesting question. I, so print in terms of content is just about anything. As I mentioned, sports technology, if there are any new apps, new, you know, software, new hardware that’s coming out of populates in the blindness, there is recipes, there’s food.

There are short stories. There is, you know, I know we’re talking a lot about the climate crisis. It is important to allies. Yeah. So it’s just about anything that’s sports. There’s a lot of interviews that we, you know, talk to people that’s about menstrual hygiene, just about anything that is important and interesting.

We also had really good writers and contributors in the past eight years. We’ve had bud cutter who used to write for us. We are to the Hamilton who’s to share short stories with that. So we’ve had really interesting people write for us and, you know, coming to the fact that, we’ve also had Bollywood, like feel Hollywood just about anything, because I remember one of my readers.

Yeah. I want to read what I might not even experience. So my, maybe my physical disability might stop me from going to Australia on my own, for instance, but I want to read about the place. I want to experience that place so that I think became a guiding principle for everything that we put in the bank.

So, I think, this is what makes it very interesting that I can, you know, sort of, take, because it’s like an all-star, like there is so much that is needed to be conveyed. And in fact, I I’d love to give this example that I, the magazine is in English. First of all for everybody who’s watching, listening a braille is a script.

It’s not a language, right? So we can do any language in braille, but we stick to English, because that is where my, you know, sort of efficiency lies in one of my readers who is in the rural areas of Tamilnadu. He said that, can I go on board and translate it into my local language and send it out to my readers?

That’s where you understand that. India is it’s such a diverse place that we live in a bubble that we feel like everybody has access to technology. But that’s not the, that’s not the reality. Yeah. So he actually, Johns leads every article that white print does in Tamil braille and sends it out to his sprints.

These things, you know, started making me think a lot. How important it is. What is the paucity of resources? What is the availability of motto of which is then, which then brought me to a musical, car before braille, where we speak about braille literacy, because India has such a huge population, but really literacy is literally 0.1%.

And by this happens again, because no resources about still wants to graduate might have to put in panics the effort of a person who cited. Yeah. So those things then lead to worse job opportunities, you know, it’s a wish it’s so good. So then that came about, then we started doing tactile and real resources to alone.

Any NBN English after that, there was a, one of our friends who said that you keep talking about India having such a huge population, but where are these people? Why don’t we see them in our theaters? We see them in art bookstores. There are the, which is where the whole accessibility and, you know, that conversation came in and.

Absolutely bang on, you know, I’ve been booking for this, but you’re right, because our public parks are not accessible, an environment in terms of the, you know, entertainment spaces, sorry is not accessible. You know, content is not accessible, so all your spaces are not accessible. So why would somebody who has any form of disability walk into your space?

If I know a bookstore doesn’t have read books. Right. If I am, of course, in the blind, so, which then led me to children’s literature, because I thought that if I talk about accessibility and inclusion at that formal level, you know, in their formative years, it might change the whole concept of inclusion and diversity in the years.

Which is what led me to publishing three, you know, uh, B D decided in 2018, then we did an ebook and accessible ebook, in the lockdown. And now I sort of baby, what as an author and I, wrote about sports and persons with blindness, and we spoke about sprinting and. And why the sport, so which, you know, it’s literally conversations and the reality and the situation has brought me from one project to another.

Brilliant, no wonder. I mean, my next question was, how did Forbes 30 under 30 happen now I have all the answers. So I need to ask that question, but brilliant. I mean, you know,

At the course of time. I mean, I’m being naive. I did not apply for it. I did not know about its existence and I love it because I, I did not choose it because I think, and then I let it go. No, I think you’re trying to make a, you know, bring a change and that’s what, you know, gets captured and you don’t have to actually go and look for it.

I mean, they chose you, when you went to see that, you know, things are not happening the way they usually happen. Right. You know, as picking up from what you just mentioned, ecosystem, things around us, uh, you know, what, what is manmade, is actually being built for most of it, and is actually being built for able population, you know, and that’s just unfortunate that’s I don’t think so.

It’s a very empathetic way of looking at things or designing things, and now things are happening, you know, they’re trying to, Incorporate, you know, systems or. Be inclusive, but that, even that I think right now, it looks very forced, you know, it’s like nice to have our add-on, you know, and it should not be like that.

It should be part of your process, your design process, your thinking process early in the day when you’re actually building something. Right. So, and that’s. You know, whenever we also kind of try to design products and we, we we’ve designed so many products whenever we, you know, we kind of brought that topic out for our clients and Hey, let’s be inclusive.

Let’s design in a way, which kind of, you know, captures people who we don’t really think of. The response is not very encouraging. You know, ultimately it’s a cost to, to somebody, right. But they don’t realize the cost of this would be way higher once it is done. Once things are already. Sure. Right. So, I mean, look at buildings around you look at parts around you.

They’re not designed for disabled population. I’m not thinking, you know, you’re making such, I mean, now for the first time I’m having somebody who understands what I scream, you know, at the top of my voice. ’cause I feel like I, I think they, this somewhere that a known user is a normal user visible disabilities that are invisible disabilities.

And I think all of us have either temporary, permanent, any form of disability. Right. But, I give you a live example of an accessible India conference that I attend. Five years ago, uh, it was organized in Bombay and we had the government at the central level who had invited people like us who are working in this sector and all them would be real.

All the reading material was in accessible. So there were about 25 to 30 people with blindness, but they did not have any format, a BDB digitally accessible or in braille available for them. They were furious because they’re like, why didn’t, why didn’t you invite us in, at a conference when you are not able to read the material you have for us.

And then you promise us that there are going to be X number of changes that are going to be made. Of course there are zero changes made in those levels. And I feel like if you build, thinking about. How in the beginning, I think you would save on a lot of budgets, which I think like a lot of companies don’t realize that if you, if you get into universal design, right at the beginning, you might be saving a lot of money in the end to rectify.

A particular profit. Yeah. Because, as simple as, I mean, I’ve made my website on big. Yeah. I don’t have budgets. It was a completely accessible format. I can add my image descriptions and that is what I need to access my website. So I think these are small steps that all I can take. Think about social media, for instance, these hidden features, which Instagram or Facebook, they don’t like scream out loud, but text is such a beautiful and easy way to make it accessible.

Like your captions, which is now slowly coming to a few workouts, which I wish was available just across we can access if we to the deaf population. And then you’re opening up your markets to. So many would, why wouldn’t you as a company, want to sell your product or yourself to whoever can be, need to be like you don’t need to be able body, which I absolutely think it’s a myth.

It’s not real. It’s already able-bodied so just that privilege of wanting to feel like that, just sort of diminishes the whole idea of what inclusion are accessible. Accessibility can mean in the smallest and the most, you know, meanings. Interesting. Interesting. So, you know, you touched upon a word which is again, You know, the ultimate objective of bringing in accessibility is universal design, right?

How, how close we can get to it. I mean, you know, as you said, there are different levels of disabilities. There are, uh, and there are different, very variations within that. Right. And I mean, in, designers languages, there are multiple use cases. Would come up with something, if you try to explore all of it, right, how close we can get to universal as enemy, can we be a hundred percent inclusive monotone?

I feel like nobody should try and do that. I feel like take the small steps because I think that is what matters. Very deliberate example, vitamins, Joni, Ben, companies advertise with. Because we are not a charitable venture, right. You’re trying to change the perception, which is if we go for all right.

So what I usually tell them is I’m not telling you your ROI is going to, you know, I stop. You’re not going to make like X number of profit value is it’s going to add on to your image. I’m sending you a very easy story. I’m being very honest that, you know, people might perceive you feel more like, you know, you cared about.

It could be the small steps. And then, the same day, like the same story with us, they ended up winning a couple of awards for that innovation. So I feel like the small steps, I think a lot of activists in this space also make it seem very, that you cannot offend. Yeah. You know that this field, petty, you know, what sort of unset field that people have accessibility and inclusion all my board.

Am I going to offend a particular community if I don’t do this, but I feel like that’s wrong. Like none of us before entering into this space, but aware enough about it’s a gradual process. It’s every day learning something new, like just two months ago, I started learning Indian. Just the fun of it. I’m loving it.

It’s not that I want to please the deaf community that all I want. I want to tell the whole boy, you better learn Indian sign language. Not at all. If I need to one sign. If I leave today, I would have done my job because it would in order to plant a seed in your mind. Oh, wow. I could think about this too.

It’s it’s just that like a lot of people tell me, oh my God, the work you’re doing is so amazing. And it’s like, not at all. It’s, it’s, it’s literally something so basic, but unfortunately we have everyone doesn’t meet the, we have it like bike week. It’s so simple and invite. Fun for people that coming to either.

This will also bring it’ll despite all that, to open up this avenue for you, you know, and if you do that slowly and steadily take those small steps, I think universal design is, is utopia of, I don’t think all of us can retrain. I don’t think we need to do that. We can do one step per day and you’re fine.

Like, we make sure that the model might be better than pretty. And I think that’s all. I don’t know if that’s the right term, but we try to, look down upon, people with disabilities. I mean, we feel that we are more privileged, but Hey, I mean, you don’t know how, you know, some senses, if, if, you know, if nature takes away some senses, then that gives you senses that you can’t imagine.

Right? Yeah. In fact, you know, very funny thing, even though it’s fictional, if you’ve heard about. It’s on AppleTV called a C. Yeah, it is beautiful. I mean, it’s actually made on a world, which is visually impaired, which is the normal and where people with vision are the ones who are actually disabled. So, but the way the, the way they go around doing things and not your normal things actually fighting wars.

It just lets you think that, you know, anything is possible. They just made it. I believe that it is possible. It is I’m sure. I know like professions, you know, it’s not the worldview that people have, especially in India, that if you are the blinders, you only have to become either. So you sit at home. I know BJ’s and RGS and sheriff and lawyers and, and somebody who can play 28 musical instruments, you know?

It’s like, just about anything. It’s just that one site it’s just going to be once I did have abused one sense. So yeah, in fact, that whole show is made with people who are visually impaired. So imagine. Actually we’re able to create such a beautiful world of that. So, you know, you know, in our conversation, you know, till now I understand that you’ve been in the, driving accessibility in the physical form of things, you know, things that I want to deal with, that you can touch feel. There’s another world that, you know, that is getting created, which is which people are getting dependent on, you know, day by day, which is, the digital world.

Right? Upasana. How do you think, you know, practices that you’re following in the physical world can translate to, the digital part of things and how, how has designers, once you kind of think in that direction, And create something that is more inclusive and help create a more universal or at least drive things towards universal design.

Oh, definitely. So my, I mean, my constant approach, is to, you know, sort of marry the two because, as much as I want, people to, read braille because, you know, A lot of, sort of benefits, but I also understand that there is a set of the population, or even from the, for them to feel invited towards this, you know, to drive that for instance, if my book is also available in braille, like my story books, it’s also available as a sign language video.

It’s also available as an audio book. It’s also available as a print book. So I try to be as embracing as possible. And I also. Other people, or I know we’ve had all those who’ve come to us in the past and you know, they’ve, they’ve done all of it because it’s a lot of fun and we like you open many, many, many doors or do it apart from that, I have now started using, social media to put that voice out.

Right. Because social media, accessibility is one of the biggest challenges that wasn’t the blindness who use screen readers and not able to access in. Because the content is not interesting. So we try and push for that, that, you know, try putting, you know, an alternate text to one picture of week, maybe by not like, if you’re a content creator, especially because now if people have that kind of influence on people, why not?

But it’s. From the west and I’m learning ISL, the Indian sign language. She was telling me about this very interesting, phenomenon that has happened. That because there people have started using so much technology brands are now reaching out with them. So they’re able to sell their product to their community because that’s community.

And why wouldn’t you want to reach out to them in the most accessible format? Because if you don’t know, sign language as a person of URI, you might not be able to reach them. You’ve you’ve lost that market. So, you know, thinking about it in that way, like brands are like, for instance, sat alone had come up with braille packaging.

And the first people that they thought of advertising was with us, you know, because they’re like, oh, we need to reach to persons of blindness. How do we do that? And exactly what we did, but yes. To make it more inviting for more and more people, more and more designers, I think, driving away the feel and, you know, making it easy and making it sound simple.

Why wouldn’t want, you know, everyone might be using your product or your system or your designer differently. So if you are able to reach out to those many people, why not? Right. So I think, using technology and using that to improve what we already have is it’s what our aim should be like, not one medium.

Over the other, like, I remember listening to once and he’s like radio, everyone thought it was non-existent, you know, at one point and then suddenly it came up. Right. So there’s never one medium over the other. For known fact makes life simpler. Like one of my readers use uses the shopping pen. She goes, she loves independently shopping.

So when she goes shopping, she used that pen to find out whatever she is wanting to buy. And then she’ll decide whether that will read out the color or tell what the color of the pack on is. And that helps her do like shop on her own. She doesn’t. Right. So doing those things, like little, affordable, I feel like in India, also, the question is of affordability more affordable.

We use it, like make it inaccessible in those ways. You know, we end up, as I said, knowing early in the discussion, we ended up making things add on or, you know, need to have, and then put them in a category which, kind of obligates them from mainstream and then send me the cost is unaffordable for everyone.

Yeah. Yeah, exactly. Yeah. Yeah. So what lies next for white print? What lies next? So I’m definitely going to write more stories because I have seen the difference, you know, in a lot of children when they think, and, what I’ve also started doing now with copies is a lot of sensitisation workshops, because I feel like the, the, the experience that I bring in all these years, you know, really helps me, um, talk to people in another way, which I feel normalizes disability.

Yeah, because I feel like one things are normalized. It just becomes easier to accept. And once you’ve accepted, you will work. You’ll walk towards it for short. So yes, I’m going to do a lot more books, a lot more, workshops because that feeling, it just changes. So I, I have recently moved on to also becoming an inclusion and diversity advisor.

And I think it’s, it’s a fun journey because I feel like in India, we are just slowly warming up to the concept of inclusion, diversity, accessibility. And it’s amazing that you’re bringing this dialogue. It is extremely important than, and it’s simple. It’s so simple. And I know that everybody around is trying the best to drive this home.

So yeah, I think wonderful that you’re doing. Yeah. I mean, it just needs to be, this needs to be pot, that’s it? You know, if it doesn’t talk Bennett as doesn’t execute it, that’s all, it’s just that you’ve done. Good. I mean, this, this has been a good chat. I mean, a takeaway for us would have been, you know, in our design process, how we can, uh, you know, implement, the, as I said, that seed of, Hey, let’s start thinking inclusive and not just designed for one category of users and, you know, build from there.

And as you said, it can’t be a hundred percent, but at least let’s get. Yeah. Good. Thank you for being part of, this episode and look forward to kind of more such stuff from a white print and you thank you for having me on the show.

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