International Conference on Disability, Equity, Justice: Civil 20 India 2023

International Conference on Disability, Equity, Justice: Civil 20 India 2023

On 29th May 2023, Disability, Equity, Justice (DEJ) Working Group successfully organised a day-long International Conference at The Lalit, New Delhi with multiple plenary and breakout sessions. There were over 350 participants in person from 10 countries and 1000 participants from 22 countries who joined the conference virtually.

The day-long conference provided a centre stage to organisations of persons with disabilities across disabilities, genders and geographical areas (urban and rural), people working for disability inclusion, policymakers, and other stakeholders across the G20+ countries, to ensure that we make robust policy recommendations as an outcome. Through 3 plenary sessions and 4 breakout rooms, we focussed on inclusive economies, digital economies, skilling for the future, women with disabilities-led development, building inclusive societies, elderly care and disability, and better preparedness for disasters and climate change.

Sitting on the couch from right to left is Ms Nidhi Goyal, Shri Rajesh Aggarwal, Shri Vijay Nambiar.

The Conference started with a cultural performance by the ‘We Are One’ (Artists with Disabilities). In the plenary sessions, speakers called for action from G20 leaders to commit to disability inclusion, including ensuring participation and financial commitments. The Secretary of the Department of Empowerment of Persons with Disabilities, Shri Rajesh Aggarwal ji, reminded us of the importance of embodying the slogan, ‘Nothing about us, without us’, even within the disability work of the government. Civil 20 Sherpa, Ambassador Vijay Nambiar shared how the “path to equity and justice for persons with disabilities must begin with education for all becoming a reality.” CRPD Committee member, Ms. Saowalak Thongkuay from Thailand stressed the need for meaningful, inclusive participation of persons with disabilities to ensure our collective well-being.

Dance performance by the We Are One group. There are three male dancers in wheelchairs and three female dancers standing beside them. The participants facing the performers are recording on their own mobile phones.

Our very own, Nidhi Goyal presented bold asks as framing in the inaugural session which were: “Data, laws and policies; Education, skilling and employment; Health, access and equity; Accessible and inclusive infrastructure and devices and finally, Budgetary commitment”.

Ms Nidhi Goyal is on the podium addressing the conference.

The Opening Plenary titled 'Inclusive Economies, Inclusive Futures' brought together various disability rights and diversity experts. The plenary focused on inclusive educational institutions, workplaces, and accessibility of disability aids, as well as social security for persons with disabilities.

On the stage from left to right are Ms Shweta Punj, Ms Stella Reicher, Mr Ronie Vitorino Novais, Ms Nidhi Goyal, Mr Keshav Suri, Raj Mariwala and Ms Meenakshi Balasubramanian. The background is the zoom meeting screen of Ms Deepti and sign interpreters.

Meenakshi Balasubramanian, (Associate, Center for Inclusive Policy) emphasised the need for affordable, quality disability-related services and devices, while Deepti Samant Raja (Social Development Specialist, The World Bank), addressed the digital divide and the high-cost barrier. Raj Mariwala (Director, Mariwala Health Initiative) placed emphasis on the significance of creating an empathetic organisation and dismantling ableism. Nidhi Goyal (Founder and Executive Director, Rising Flame; Steering Committee Member: Civil 20 India) highlighted the importance of addressing women with disabilities in an inclusive economy, as they are less likely to be in school and are less likely to be in employment. Ronie Vitorino, a disability rights activist from Brazil addressed the need for self-advocacy and increased participation of people with intellectual disabilities.

On the panel from left to right is Ms Shweta Punj, Ms Stella Reicher, Mr Ronie Vitorino Novais, Ms Nidhi Goyal.

Inclusive societies are crucial for people with disabilities to live independently and fulfil their potential. A breakout room session on 'Getting ready for the future - Education, skilling, livelihood' discussed the importance of providing opportunities for disabled youth to expand their horizons.

On the panel from left to right is Niluka Gunawardena, Deepti Gubbi, Poonam Natrajan and Dr Prema. Niluka Gunawardena is speaking on the mic.

Joanna Clark (Director, Deaf Child Worldwide) stated “The biggest barrier for all deaf children to social and emotional well-being which is the precursor to good education is lack of language skills”. Dr Prema Nedungadi (Coordinator Working Group on Education and Digital Transformation) encouraged research to further progress across fields. Poonam Natrajan (former Chairperson of the National Trust for Welfare of Persons with Autism, Cerebral Palsy, Mental Retardation & Multiple Disabilities) emphasised the importance of support systems for a more fulfilling life for people with disabilities. Deepti Gubbi (Head - Curriculum Development and Training, Jai Vakeel) expanded on Project Disha Abhiyan as the Udaharan, which was done in partnership with the Commissionerate of PwD, Government of Maharashtra.

Zoom screenshot of the conference broadcast divided into two boxes. The box on the left shows the sign language interpreter and the one on the right shows Joanna Clark.

In the breakout room session titled ‘Accessibility - A sustainable development and economic priority’ the focus point of the panel was that accessibility is a fundamental right for the disability community that is being demanded across the physical and digital infrastructure.

From left to right is Stella Reicher, Apoorv Kulkarni, Taha Haaziq, Subhash Vashishth, Dr Nirmita Narsimhan.

Subhash Vashishth (Director, CABE Foundation) stated that accessibility remains an advocacy issue, and organisations must constantly highlight it to ensure better implementation. Dr Nirmita Narsimhan (Programme Director with Global Initiative for Inclusive ICT) underlined the need of improving web accessibility and accelerating compliance. Risnawati Utami (Executive Director Ohana, Indonesia and International Coordinator Disability Equity Justice Working Group) emphasised the need for law and legislation to address the mobility needs of people with disabilities, and policy measures must ensure research and development into low-cost assistive technology. Taha Haaziq (Office of the State Commissioner Persons with Disabilities) presented the Udaaharan (Best Practice) about Purple Fest, India's first festival of inclusion, showcasing how infrastructure was made completely accessible including the beach.

Subhash Vashishth is speaking on the mic and addressing the conference. From left to right is Subhash Vashishth, Dr Nirmita Narsimhan, Taha Haaziq.

The breakout room session on ‘Inclusive Communities Inclusive Societies’ included diverse speakers and was moderated by Agnieszka Krol (Manager, CREA). Agness Chindimba (Founder, Deaf Women Included) highlighted the challenges faced by deaf women and women with invisible disabilities and stated importance of making information and services available, supporting organisations, promoting self-advocacy, and challenging stereotypes to make society inclusive.

On the panel from left to right is Agnieszka Krol, Agness Chindimba, Mathew Cherian, Dr Bhargavi Davar and R Narendhar. Agnieszka is holding the mic and addressing the conference.

Dr Bhargavi Davar (Executive Director, TCI Asia) advocated for community reintegration, removing legal and financial barriers to inclusion, and allocating resources towards disability-linked services. Mathew Cherian (Chairperson, Care India) discussed the need for age-friendly, inclusive, and accessible cities to address the growing number of disabilities among the elderly, including persons with disabilities. R. Narendhar (Executive Director, The Alzheimer’s & Related Disorders Society of India) highlighted the Kerala State Initiative for Dementia, which focuses on dementia awareness, training, and providing care centres and helplines. The initiative has led to increased awareness, establishment of dementia facilities, and a dementia-friendly environment for underprivileged individuals.

The breakout room session on ‘Environment, Climate Justice, Disaster Risk Reduction and Disability’ was moderated by Dr Sruti Mohapatra, Founder Swabhiman and included speakers Pavan Kumar Muntha, CEO Swadhikaar and Shantha Rau Barriga, Founding Director, disability rights division, Human Rights Watch. Dr Mohapatra highlighted the disproportionate displacement of the population and the need for newer accommodations. Pavan highlighted the importance of interdependence with all species of nature and the risks they face due to climate change through his presentation on the links between us and other species on Earth. Addressing the point that risks PWDs face, Shantha Rau Barriga highlighted the need for proactive planning and accessible heat-wave information to ensure a human rights-oriented approach.

From left to right is Dr Sruti Mohapatra, Shantha Rau Barriga and Pavan Kumar Muntha.

Bring the conference to a close, our closing plenary had splendid speakers such as Mr. Shombi Sharp, UN Resident Coordinator in India. He called for full implementation of the UNCRPD and financial investment from all involved. Swami Amritaswarupananda Puri, representative of Chair of C20, member of the Troika, emphasised the need to respect persons with disabilities, their lives, and choices, and replace sympathy with empathy.

Mr Shombi Sharp is on the podium addressing the conference.