05, Mar 2018 | Mansi Mehta
Disability rights activist Javed Abidi passed away on Sunday, March 4, 2018, reportedly due to a chest infection. He was 53. Abidi’s advocacy has been key to several other major developments in the field of disability rights, including India’s ratification of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in 2007, the establishment of a separate department for disability affairs, as well as the addition of disability as a distinct category in the census.
Abidi was born with spina bifida, a developmental disorder, in 1965, in Aligarh, Uttar Pradesh. His family moved to the United States for his medical care after he injured himself in a fall at age ten. At age 15, he began using a wheelchair. Abidi studied at Wright State University in Ohio.
In 1993, Abidi began working for Sonia Gandhi, establishing the Rajiv Gandhi Foundation’s disabilities unit. Soon after, he founded the Disabled Rights Group. He was also convener of the National Disability Network, India. Since 1997, Abidi was the director of the National Centre for Promotion of Employment for Disabled People (NCPEDP). Instead of providing rehabilitation, education or other services to people with disabilities, this organisation focuses solely on advocating for the rights of those with disabilities. Abidi collaborated with businesses as well as the government to help push for employment opportunities for people with disabilities.
In 1995, he spearheaded a protest that pushed the Indian parliament to pass the Persons with Disabilities (Equal Opportunities, Protection of Rights and Full Participation) Act, 1995. In December 2016, this was replaced by the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Bill, which modernised disability laws in India, and for which Abidi had been a major advocate.
In 2004, he wrote a letter to the Chief Justice of India regarding making polling places accessible to those with disabilities. It was converted into a writ petition, and the Supreme Court then passed directives to make voting accessible. In October 2011, Abidi became world chair of Disabled People’s International (DPI), an international cross-disability non-governmental organisation that works to promote the rights of people with disabilities. DPI has special consultative status with the United Nations. In 2013, Abidi also took on the role of vice-chair at the International Disability Alliance, an international alliance of global and regional groups of persons with disabilities.
Abidi was a strong proponent of the policy of ‘Nothing About Us, Without Us’ for those with disabilities, as well as an early activist for the cross-disability movement, calling for those with various disabilities to join hands to tackle common concerns.