This week, I’ll be posting a series of articles on a relatively new social networking site called Inclusive Planet. I discovered them only because I had spotted one of their tweets (follow @inclusiveplanet), and while I was curious, I did not investigate until I was approached and invited to join. After spending only a few days on the site, I became fascinated with the concept and intrigued by the platform’s potential. So much so, in fact, that I requested an interview with some of the site’s principals, and was granted access to some great information I’ll share here.
Inclusive Planet is a web site devoted to connecting people who have print disabilities. The term “print disability” can include a learning or cognitive impairment, dyslexia, blindness or low vision, or anyone who just needs greater accessibility in a social network environment. The site is fully accessible for anyone who uses a screen reader, and it is simple and easy to navigate. I had no trouble quickly familiarizing myself with the site features, and there were no complicated settings or customizations. The straightforward prompts and intuitive, flexible format made the site usable and fun.
Inclusive Planet is relatively new. Therefore, it has a rather small membership, at least compared to Twitter or Facebook. However, it is growing rapidly, and just since I joined two weeks ago, I would guess over one hundred new members, or "Planeteers" as they are called, have created their own profiles.
One of the unique aspects of Inclusive Planet is the ability to create a “channel,” a sort of personalized information conduit that allows channel owners to import a blog, upload files, books, class notes, syllabi, audio files, and any other content that might otherwise be inaccessible for people with print disabilities. All content on the web site that is shared by it’s members is usable by anyone who requires the use of a screen reader such as Jaws or ZoomText.
It’s a cliché these days to marvel at how small our world has become, thanks to the ability to connect with anyone on the globe from our desktop. Inclusive Planet truly brings that notion home when you realize that, at least for right now, the majority of the members are not North Americans, which is the usual result of a silicon Valley-born enterprise.
In part one of this series, the Director of Marketing for Inclusive Planet, Ujjvala Ballal, shares some background information as to Inclusive Planet’s own “big bang.”
LL: Who came up with the original concept of Inclusive Planet?
IP: One of our co-founders – Rahul Cherian, a copyright lawyer, was invited to help draft the WIPO Treaty for Improved Access for Blind, Visually Impaired and other Reading Disabled Persons in 2008. It was there that it struck Rahul that there was a massive resource problem that technology could fix. Subsequently upon his return Rahul, Sachin and Reuben worked with organizations working with persons with print impairment to understand what the best solutions would be. The more we were exposed to the nature of the problems faced by the community the more apparent it became what the solutions needed to look like.
There is no one person behind the idea. It is an evolving iterative effort that has been changing shape to meet the problem intelligently. The core group of six people behind the project is an interesting mix of technologists, lawyers, business graduates, disability policy activists and designers.
Here is a link to the profiles of the core group:
LL: When did Inclusive Planet first go online, and how many members have you now?
IP: We launched our beta platform end of October 2009 and currently Inclusive Planet connects around 3700 print-impaired persons from 81 countries. These 3700 persons have shared 20,000+ files of accessible content and over 4000+ conversations. We hope to connect over 10,000 people by December 31, 2010 and over half a million by December 31, 2011.
We launched the Turkish version in April 2010 and already have 300 members. The site was driven completely because of the efforts of a member from Turkey.
We also have the Spanish version of the site ready but we are looking at partnering with a few organizations in Latin America to help us.
LL: How was the project funded, or by whom?
IP: So far we have raised money from angel investors who have invested in their individual capacities. These individuals are people from the Indian venture capital, social business and technology business community. We’ve raised 120,000 USD so far from these. Currently we’re looking to enlist a few more of these angels, but we are also looking for a larger round of support to give us the resources we need for 2-3 years.
According to Ballal, the specific impact of the project is intended to encompass a “greater pool of educational, leisure and work related content (books, articles, magazines, journals, blogs and conversations) for the print-impaired worldwide, positively impacting education and employment amongst the print-impaired, as well as increased reading amongst the print-impaired.”
Another goal of the Inclusive Planet platform is to “Increase social interaction between people with print impairment leading to relationships, community building and more complete individual development.” As a result of these efforts in community building, the Inclusive Planet group hopes it will lead to “fuller citizenship and lobbying and, equally importantly, the discovery of the print-impaired as a market for products and services.”
Ballal also suggests that the large pool of lifestyle content, such as tips for greater independent living, city guides, menu cards, travel information and tips on Assistive technologies will lead to a “higher lifestyle standard amongst the print-impaired.”
In part two of this series Ujjvala Ballal will share more info about the Inclusive Planet goals and plans for expansion.
Thanks for reading, and more soon!