Friday, April 5, 2013

1000 days to reach out to 1 billion

It has been quite sometime since I last blogged. Today is a good day and a good time to begin a discussion on the inclusion of disability in the development agenda. I will try to be more regular from here onwards. But for now, I encourage you to read the article below, written by my colleague Ms. Dorodi Sharma.

Javed Abidi

1000 days to reach out to 1 billion

Dorodi Sharma
OSD to Chairperson, Disabled People's International (DPI)

Friday, April 5, 2013 is an important day. From this day onwards, the world has 1000 days to meet the commitments it made with the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). There is a lot of buzz about the #MDGMomentum. This is a good time for people with disabilities to take stock.

At the turn of the century, the world discussed and deliberated on the MDGs. The 8 goals unified the world – governments, development agencies, civil society on key issues like poverty, education, health, gender, environment and so on. However, despite the fact that a substantial percentage of the world’s population (almost 10 percent) was affected by disability, there was no mention of disability in the MDGs – not in the goals themselves, nor in the indicators. This was despite the well-established connection between disability and poverty; the fact that children with disabilities were the ones who got left behind; the fact that women with disabilities were even more marginalised and faced multiple discrimination and so on.

This was as much a reflection on the development world as it was the disability movement itself.

Although, steps have been taken later on to ensure that disability was taken into consideration in the implementation of the MDGs, it would not be an exaggeration to say that progress has been much below the expectation of the disability movement worldwide.

In the past 2 years or so, talks about the MDGs missing the mark triggered discussions on the post-MDG framework. However, as more and more energy was spent on the post-2015 agenda, there was another school of thought that urged caution, that there was still some time to achieve significant progress. And from Friday, April 5, we still have 1000 days to do so.

Today, the World Health Organisation says that 1 billion people or 15 percent of the world’s population are living with disability. Of this, 800 million or 80 percent live in the global South. People with disabilities comprise 20 percent of the world’s poorest. In this scenario, it is not only imperative that disability in intrinsic to the processes for fulfilling the MDGs to the extent possible by 2015, but also to underline the fact that disability must be a significant part of the debates, discussions and outcomes of the post-2015 development agenda. To do so, it is important that the disability movement must deliberate on the following:

Look South: As mentioned, 800 million people with disabilities live in the global South. The MDGs and the post-2015 framework means and will mean the most for these 800 million. Yet, their voices are nowhere in the scene. This has been a disappointment in the larger civil society movement engaging with the MDGs and the post-2015 processes in general. The foreword of ‘Shaping our Shared Futures Beyond 2015: Perspectives from the Global South’ published by Wada Na Todo Abhiyan  says: “Among the strongest critiques of the MDGs was that they were conceived in an arbitrary, non-transparent and non-inclusive manner in the global North, without real involvement or ownership from either the poor and excluded populations, civil societies or even national governments in the countries of the global South.”
There is a definite surge in advocacy by organisations from the global South in the post MDG processes and there is no reason why this should not hold true for the disability movement as well. People with lived experiences of poverty, indignity and lack of basic facilities should be talking themselves and not have others talk on their behalf. This is difficult given that there needs to be funds available for leaders from the global South to travel to the meetings and deliberations.
Inclusion of disability in the UN High Level Panel on post-MDGs: Although very late in the day, since the panel is due to submit it report next month, it is still essential that the disability movement continues to remind the eminent persons on the panel to not forget disability. However, the last High Level Panel meeting in Bali, where disability found no mention in the official communiqué, has created grave apprehensions.

Engaging with the larger civil society movement in MDGs and post-MDGs: The most common critique of the disability movement has been its alienation from the larger civil society movement, despite the fact that disability is a cross-cutting issue. Now that lessons have been learnt after the omission of disability in the MDGs, there is a huge responsibility on the disability movement to ensure that mainstream CSOs are including disability in their advocacy, so that gender organisations talk about women with disabilities; child rights advocates talk about children with disabilities; and so on.

High Level Meeting on Disability and Development: One of the most significant milestones in the disability movement worldwide will be the upcoming UN High Level Meeting on Disability and Development in New York on September 23, 2013. This  meeting will hopefully set the tone for inclusion of disability in the remaining MDG processes and in the upcoming post-MDGs framework. This has been dubbed by many leaders as a ‘once in a lifetime’ opportunity. Time is of the essence here and it is very important to ensure that the High Level Meeting does not get diluted and that governments take this meeting very seriously and send the highest level of delegation possible. The need to ensure a strong outcome document cannot be over-emphasised.

Connection between the High Level Meeting, Opening of the General Assembly Debate and the Special Event on MDGs: The High Level Meeting on Disability and Development is followed by the Opening of the General Assembly Debate on September 24, 2013 and the Special Event on MDGs on September 25, 2013. Leaders from the disability movement are now looking at the possibility to connect these three very important events. A strong demand that has arisen from some of the key voices in the global disability movement that the outcomes of the High Level Meeting should feature in the speeches and deliberations of the next 2 days.

Engaging with national governments: It is very essential to motivate national and local level disabled people’s organisations to advocate with their governments to take disability issues with the seriousness they deserve. At the end of the day, when the MDG processes in the remaining two years and the post-2015 agenda are discussed, it will be the governments who will either support or oppose based on their country’s priorities. Disability is a non-political issue, by and large. Therefore, chances of it being opposed are less. However, the probability of it not making to a majority of the countries’ list of priorities is much higher. Therefore, advocacy at the national level becomes paramount.

Disability as a development issue: The fact that disability is a cross-cutting issue has by and large been well-established. But the new argument put forward by disability rights advocates is that it is not just a human rights issue but also a development issue. Therefore, it needs to be looked at from that lens as well. This is a relatively new thinking but one with tremendous merit. Leaders from the disability movement, especially from the developing world, should be motivated to imbibe this thought and incorporate it in their own advocacy.

Going to the grassroots: Javed Abidi, Chairperson of Disabled People’s International (DPI) firmly believes that disability rights will have to be realised at the grassroots and not in New York and Geneva. This is a valid argument and throws a sense of caution at the sudden, seemingly top down disability agenda and related advocacy. Most disability rights advocates would prefer a mix of bottoms up and top down mechanism, favouring the bottoms up flow. This is where organisations like DPI have a huge role to play. DPI’s strength lies in its unparalleled reach at the grassroots across 130 countries and 5 regions. Most of its members are drawn from the developing world and across disabilities. This also puts a huge responsibility on DPI’s leadership and its members to actively engage in the MDG and post-MDG processes. 

Monday, February 15, 2010

Techshare 2010: Give us 'best' assistive devices!

Techshare 2010 was inaugurated in New Delhi today. IT Minister, Sachin Pilot was too busy, I guess. However, Social Justice Minister, Mukul Wasnik came & saw the exhibition too. We drew his attention to the ADIP Scheme under which rotten, low quality wheelchairs, crutches, white canes & hearing aids are distributed. Crores are Rupees are wasted. Govt. pretends they are doing it to 'alleviate' the suffering of disabled people. Actually, they only add to it!!!

Under this Scheme, ALIMCO in Kanpur still manufactures British era goods. I would not wish their wheelchairs on my worst enemy! I swear!! These 'goods' are transported in trucks to 'backward' districts & villages & given to 'poor' disabled people, under Govt's 'Camp' approach. 'Goods' are so bad, no one uses them. Nothing ever changes. Only person happy: the politician, for photos published next day in local papers.

XIth Five Year Plan clearly says: "ALIMCO should not be a monopoly supplier". Plan has been approved by the Cabinet, but no implementation. The Plan further says: "Approach should be to provide BEST assistive devices by encouraging multiple manufacturers & even through imports". Planning Commission promised: "XIth Plan shall allocate adequate funds for strengthening of this Scheme". Over 2 years gone! No action yet!!

At Techshare's inauguration today, I cornered Mukul Wasnik on this vital issue. He has promised he will "look into the matter". Let's see. My honest opinion: Entire ADIP scheme needs to be overhauled! ALIMCO needs to be shut down or totally revamped!! Will MSJE listen? Will they do it??

Can you think of a life without technology?!!

Techshare 2010 was inaugurated in New Delhi earlier today. I had written this short article for their brochure. Am sharing it here on my blog for wider dissemination.

In today's time & age, can you think of a day, literally, without the use of say your mobile phone, or going onto the Internet, or switching on the TV in the evening?! Then think of not going to an ATM, or not being able to use your washing machine or microwave?!

Things most of us take so much for granted are not accessible to millions of Indian disabled citizens. And even where the tool is within reach, to use it is either very difficult or impossible. And even in that process, one has to compromise one's safety and dignity. Not only that, but one has to often pay more -- a sort of a 'punishment tax' imposed on us for being born disabled in this country!!

We say we are living in the 'Information Age'. Some say we are racing on the 'Information Highway'. Not entirely false! We CAN access information, a lot of it, at merely the press of a button or the click of a mouse. There are thousands of websites. Government alone has 5000+. We can read newspapers online, book our railway or our movie tickets, or even submit our Income Tax returns.

W3C (World Wide Web Consortium) has ‘Accessibility Guidelines’. They have had these guidelines for a decade plus. Most decent countries use them and ensure that their websites are disabled-friendly. In several countries, there are stringent laws. In India, we neither had a law, nor the guidelines. Net result: The Nation raced ahead on the so-called ‘Information Highway’, leaving millions of disabled people behind, especially those with visual impairments.

In December 2008, when NCPEDP highlighted this issue, not a single website of the Government, out the 5000+, was WCAG compliant. Only when the Prime Minister’s Office intervened, there was a flurry of activity. However, full credit to the Ministry of Information Technology (IT), once they were seized of the issue, they moved forward very quickly. A high level Committee was constituted and by February 2009, National Informatics Centre (NIC) was out with their Web Access Guidelines. This was/is good news. Unfortunately, however, these guidelines are restricted only to the Government websites. The private sector still remains unaccountable in India.

With these guidelines in place, no new Government website can now be commissioned or constructed, unless it is fully WCAG 2.0 compliant. I am told that NIC is enforcing this quite firmly. But not all Government agencies always go to NIC. Some of them get their websites done from private vendors. Therefore, there is a need for creating more awareness on this issue, on the Government’s mandate, and on the existence of these guidelines. More importantly, there is a dire need for monitoring backed by punitive measures.

The other front was those 5000+ Government websites which already were up & running. Again, to their credit, Ministry of IT took urgent & proactive steps and got the Indian Portal, as well as, accessible i.e. WCAG 2.0 compliant. Unfortunately, however, the other Ministries have been tardy as well as insensitive. Almost a year ago, NCPEDP submitted a list of 50 Government websites, which we felt should be made accessible ASAP. Websites such as those concerning railway tickets, passports, income tax returns, etc. or the Websites of say the Prime Minister’s Office, Planning Commission, Social Justice Ministry, and so on. It gives me no happiness to record that as on date, not a single website except that of MSJE has been made disabled-friendly!!

As far as the private sector is concerned, the less said the better! NASSCOM’s own website is not accessible and every time this issue is brought up, they hide behind all sorts of excuses.

However, in fairness to NASSCOM and especially their President, Mr. Som Mittal, they have become quite sensitized to disability issues of late. Infact, very recently, they have even set up a Disability Advisory Group. I sincerely hope that they will now take urgent steps to ensure that their website becomes accessible and disabled-friendly.

The point is simple. If NASSCOM’s own website is not WCAG 2.0 compliant, how will they ever be in any position to do any advocacy vis. a vis. other private sector players.

Let me now move on, away from the topic of websites to the larger gamut of electronics. Mobiles, television, ATMs, washing machines, microwaves, and other such ‘things’ which we take so much for granted and which are so very central to our daily lives.

Now, imagine if we did not have access to them! Or, inorder to access them, we needed someone else’s help, i.e. we were ‘dependent’ on someone else. Or, in trying to access/use them, we hurt ourselves or burnt ourselves. Imagine, compromising your dignity practically every single day of your life. Imagine, being dependent on someone else for something otherwise as simple as putting your clothes into a washing machine, or heating food in the microwave.

India gained ‘independence’ some 62 years ago. Our Constitution promises us equality and freedom, but as I write this article, the words ring hollow. Where is our equality and when will we be truly ‘free’? The 70 million disabled citizens of India ask this question almost every single day of their lives.

Therefore, what India now needs is a ‘National Policy for Electronic Accessibility’. NCPEDP, in collaboration with BarrierBreak Technologies, has drafted such a policy and I am pleased to say that it is under the active consideration of the IT Ministry.

This is the 2nd Techshare in India. We at NCPEDP are proud to be partnering with BarrierBreak Technologies, along with ofcourse RNIB. I hope some good comes out of this unique conference. I wish Shilpi Kapoor and her enterprising team the very best!!

Honorary Director, NCPEDP

Thursday, February 11, 2010


Law Minister, Veerappa Moily, has written to Kapil Sibal in support of our 'Right to Read' campaign. Congrats, Nirmita.

Moily to Sibal: "I strongly feel that legitimate concerns of disabled people may be considered and appropriate remedy provided to them." Moily further advised "immediate appropriate action".

Let's see if Kapil Sibal heeds this advise or picks another fight with the disability sector!

Wednesday, February 10, 2010


Amendments to Disability Act 1995, if at all, will certainly not make it to the upcoming Budget session. That's a relief. Can focus (more) on 2 other crucial targets: Union Budget 2010 & Amendments to Copyright Act. Has huge implications for print impaired people. Would you believe it that out of 1 lakh books published in India every year, barely 500 are available to our blind friends in 'alternative formats'??

Isn't that a NATIONAL SHAME??? And when this was brought to the notice of our HRD Minister, Kapil Sibal recently at the inaugural of the Book Fair, he said, "I have already done enough for the disabled"!!!

Friday, February 5, 2010

Our moment of reckoning

I write this with a feeling of excitement and nervousness, and at the same time with a firm resolve and faith in the movement of 70 million disabled people of the nation.

Yet again, the disability movement in India is bracing itself to face its moment of reckoning. We are faced with not one but multiple challenges.

It has been 14 years since the Disability Act of 1995 was enacted. Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment (MSJE) stubbornly continues to harp on ‘amendments’. The sector’s demand for a new law, truly reflecting the letter and spirit of United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD), is getting stronger with each passing day.

National Centre for Promotion of Employment for Disabled People (NCPEDP) and Disabled Rights Group (DRG) have been gradually broadbasing this discussion through National and Zonal level consultations.

The movement has picked up. MSJE can no longer be indifferent to our voice and more importantly, our sentiments.

Another issue that is staring at our face is the upcoming Union Budget. We have to ensure that our concerns are not once again relegated to the backburner like the last year.

The third issue that needs our immediate attention is Census 2011. In exactly a year from now, the process of enumeration will start. We all remember that it was after a prolonged struggle that a question on disability was included in Census 2001 at the last moment and with dismal results.

The work that lies ahead of us is to ensure that the disabled population is properly reflected in the Census results this time.

Information is power. It can lead to self-advocacy and empowerment. We, at NCPEDP, have always believed in sharing information to mobilize opinion of the sector on issues that concern all of us.

However, as much as we would want to reach each and every disabled person and all others who care, our reach and resources are limited.

Cyberspace has now given us a powerful medium to take our voices to a much greater audience and in no time at all. I have recently started using 3 pretty interesting media: Twitter (@javed_abidi), blog ( and Facebook! My endeavour is and will be to give regular updates on issues concerning people with disabilities. If need be, and as much as humanly possible, on a daily basis.

I urge all stakeholders of the Indian disability movement to make an effort to give these accounts a look and follow them as frequently as possible.


National Centre for Promotion of Employment for Disabled People (NCPEDP) has slowly and steadily become a name to reckon with in the disability sector since its inception as a registered Trust in 1996. The driving force at NCPEDP has been the need to move away from traditionally held views of charity and welfare to those of productivity and empowerment for disabled people. Needless to say, NCPEDP has played a pivotal role in the disability rights movement in the country.

Conservative estimates put the population of persons with disability in India at 70 million. Yet, it is only a minuscule percentage of the population that has been seen in the mainstream of any aspect of life in the country; be it the workforce, education or anything else. Any study undertaken to determine the reason for this would point to one direction and that would be the lack of access; primarily in the built environment.

A cursory study of history too would reveal that all great movements arose from the very lack of access to basic facilities, discrimination and the fight for one’s dignity and belief that all humans are equal and born free – whether it was Rosa Parks who refused to bear the humiliation and indignity or the Father of our Nation who was thrown out of a train in Durban, South Africa and led us on the path to freedom. Today the disability rights movements advocates equal access for people with disability to social, political, and economic life which includes not only physical access but access to the same tools, services, organizations and facilities which we all pay for.

Over the years, Accessibility has come to occupy the most identifiable cause that has unified the global approach towards disability – across social, political and economic lives of disabled people.
It has become the most fundamental cause that any disabled person identifies with, irrespective of the disability. Accessibility has become the fulcrum to the disability rights movement globally.

NCPEDP, therefore, has instituted the Ronald L Mace Awards to be given away every year to those who have been doing exemplary work towards the cause of accessibility and barrier free environments and thus ensuring a life of equality and dignity for disabled people. We are confident that in time, these Awards will gain tremendous recognition and credibility in the disability sector and outside.

Ronald Lawrence Mace is regarded as the father of the concept of universal design. Afflicted by polio when he was 9 years of age, he became a wheel-chair user for the rest of his life. Refusing to let barriers get in his way, Ronald continued to strive for success, attending North Carolina State University and graduated in 1966 with a degree in architecture. After working for four years in conventional architecture he realized his calling in life. He then began working on “accessible architecture” that lead to the invention of “universal design concept”. Ronald’s concept of universal design was to design all products and buildings to be visually pleasing and usable to the greatest extent possible by everyone, regardless of age, ability, or situation. Ronald not only designed universally accessible buildings and products, but also developed America’s first accessible-building code. As a dedicated advocate for the disabled, Ronald’s work is also said to have been vital in the passage of federal legislation prohibiting discrimination against people with physical impairments. He also founded the Center for Universal Design at North Carolina State University, the pioneering research and development centre in universal design. His passing away in 1998 was a great loss to the disability rights movements.

This award will be a tribute to this great visionary whose work has changed millions of lives. It will go a long way in continuing his good work and making his vision of a universally usable world a reality.

Over the last few years in India, accessibility has gained significant ground mainly through the rigorous pressure exerted by the disability movement in the implementation of The Persons with Disability Act 1995. Many individuals and institutions have taken up work on the issue of accessibility and have done a commendable job under demanding circumstances. With accessibility being such a core issue, we felt it was time to highlight these achievements among the general public not only to raise awareness but also to act as force stimulant in our goal of a barrier-free environment in India.

NCPEDP requests support:

  • to reach out to the masses through effective media exploits that can generate massive awareness about the rights of disabled people. This would ensure a change in the mindset of people. Society at large still views disabled people through the prism of charity. The media support for the awards would ensure that every citizen participates in the movement that can deliver the rights that are due to disabled people so that they can live a dignified life.
  • to generate the level of awareness about accessibility among non-disabled people to ensure that they are sensitized to the issue. This will go a long way in the integration of disabled people in mainstream society, which is again intricately dependent on how accessible the social & workplace environments become.

The award will have three categories:

Persons with disability – will be given to people with disability who have achieved significant success in accessibility/barrier-free issues in their personal/professional capacity. The person nominated should have done work that has positively impacted the lives disabled people. The work that the person has done can be either in policy framework or grass-root level implementation or even rights movements. Self nomination is not acceptable and nomination can only be done either by one or more of the people whose lives have been impacted by the nominated person’s action or by any NGO/institution who has overseen or been involved with such act/acts of the person. Every year this award will be given out to 3 people from across the country.

Working Professionals – will be given to people who work for the cause of accessibility and barrier-free environment for the upliftment of disabled people. He/she may be an employee of an NGO/corporate firm that has taken up the cause, or may be a consultant or freelancer who has devoted his/her time for the cause. His/her individual contribution to the cause is a major reason for the success achieved by the organization/firm/movement or can be an individual involved in the cause independent of any organizational support but has achieved significant success in the core objective of gaining accessibility for disabled people. Awards in this category will be given out to ensure that many dedicated people who have involved themselves in the cause get due recognition. This will not only help in sensitizing the rest of the non-disabled community, but will encourage young minds to join the cause as career option. Every year this award will be given out to 3 people from across the country.

Companies/organizations who have taken up the cause of accessibility – will be given to organizations which have adopted accessibility/ barrier-free policies and have implemented them within their organizations which has led to them recruiting people with disability and providing them equal opportunities to perform to the best of their abilities. These companies can be a role model for the rest of the corporate world, and recognizing their efforts and giving them the coverage will help the cause to reach out to many corporates. These can be any type of companies- private sector, public sector, joint sector, SME sector or even proprietorship/partnership firms. The selection criteria will not only be for adopting accessibility policies, but implementing them at their workplace. Every year this award will be given out to 4 organizations across the country.

Access to spaces & facilities symbolize the true spirit of freedom to persons with disabilities and these awards would therefore be given away on 14th August (the eve of Independence Day) every year.