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5th March, 2018 – The flashback to how the dialogue on Web Accessibility started in India with none other than Javed Abidi at the forefront of it!

March 18, 2018

In 2007, after lots of skepticism about all I had heard about "The Disability Rights Activist", "The angry man who was fighting for disability rights," "The dharna Activist", "Mr. Javed Abidi", "The Executive Director of NCPEDP", I approached Javed with a problem that I thought was looming in the future of people with disabilities in India!

Javed has mentioned this story multiple times in his talks. But now it's time to hear my side of the story!

He basically heard me out and then said, "Who are you? I haven't heard of a Shilpi Kapoor," "what is this BarrierBreak" and "why would NCPEDP work with you."

This was the stern Javed Abidi, the one who could just look at you and you could just freeze! I remember literally trembling and sitting at the edge of my chair.

My answer was simple, since it affects people with disabilities! He actually told me, I was nuts since no one else had told him there was a problem in technology access for disabled people. He anyway said, call me tomorrow at 5 pm, and I will think about it!

That day started a relationship of a type I had never imagined possible. A friend, a mentor, a protective wall in front of me, a person who stood for web accessibility more than any other person in India. But above all, "a friend".

Our friendship was one where we could be advisors or teachers to each other.

I would get a call from Javed saying "Shilpi, come to Delhi and teach me all this technology words. I need to be able talk of the challenges of the disabled, you talk all the techy stuff."

We complemented each other! His passion about disability and making change and mine about forcing conversations related to technology and inclusion.

I haven't been able to post about his passing away. I just couldn't get myself to say it.

This morning at 6:00 am, I took a flight to Delhi, to see him for the last time. I didn't know where to stay, what to do in the evening, since we had a pact to meet every evening that I was in Delhi. I'm on the way back to Mumbai and decided not to stay back in Delhi! I couldn't handle the void.

We fought, we laughed, we shared, we smiled, we gossiped and above all, we worked towards change.

Javed Abidi brought more people together than any other disability rights activist, I have known. Everyone is sitting in their corners asking for things specific to their disability! He insisted on bringing people together. Whether it was the Disability Rights Group (DRG), National Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (NCRPD) or the National Convention of Youth with Disabilities (NCYD).

I hope each of you notice that none of these ideas put people in buckets but always focused on all disabled groups!

Over the years, we worked on getting Guideline for Indian Government Websites (GIGW)to include Accessibility and in particular Web Content Accessibility Guideline (W3C), the National Policy on Electronic Universal Accessibility. So many different initiatives on Roundtables on Smart Cities & Accessible Technology, promoting web accessibility in RPWD Act, public procurement, Accessible TV guidelines, document accessibility, mobile accessibility.

The road has been tough. There was so much to yet get done, since we knew that the problem in India has always been implementation.

Javed always said Shilpi, get the correct language in the law or policy. Someone, somewhere, at sometime will be able to use it to push for web accessibility implementation. Getting it in the letter will give us something to work towards.

So many of us have argued with him, we may not have agreed with all his idea, but I hope we can learn from him about bringing the disabled people of India together.

I hope we can take his legacy ahead! I hope we can make him proud of an Inclusive & accessible India!

Till we meet again Javed! I will miss your crazy 4 am emails and calls to discuss idea on digital accessibility!

This column is by Shilpi Kapoor, Founder of BarrierBreak and 247 Accessible Documents, and NewzHook.

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