Initiative by VARIJA LIFE, NATIONAL ABILITY SUMMIT-INDIA, Virtual International Conference was held on 2nd/3rd December 2020
India: VARIJA LIFE, under Varija Bajaj is a Not for Profit Organisation, working extensively in the area of disability awareness. Amongst several other initiatives, VARIJA LIFE organized NATIONAL ABILITY SUMMIT, a virtual international conference for disability awareness in order to stir up action for an inclusive global society. The main objective of the National Ability Summit was to provide a platform to world leaders from government bodies, educational institutions, health institutions, private and public sectors to share their learning curve and collectively draw a 360 degree approach to address physical and mental health for the global community at large. The speakers from over 6 countries were on live panel discussions spanning over two days. The summit addressed various issues pertaining to Employment and Human Resource for People With Disabilities (PWD), Infrastructural Accessibility, Assistive Technology, Digital Accessibility, Mental Health, Adaptive Clothing, Art and Films for and by PWD, Digital Accessibility, Infrastructural Accessibility and Startups focusing on mental and physical needs of PWD. It is first time in the world that disability conversations encompassed such a wide horizon.
“It is important to equip people with disabilities with the right qualifications so that they are employed” said Judith E. Heumann – International Disability Rights Advocate while Suhas Yathiraj, DM-Noida, emphasised the need of catching them young and skilling them from an early age. Rich Donovan, CEO, The Return on Disability Group shared with his experience that the employment for persons with disabilities will materialise only if they prove to be true economy generators for the organisations.
Ira Singhal, Brand Ambassador for Department of Disability, Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment, Government of India, emphasised the need of clearly defining abilities in human resource practices as a learning from her own experience. She also shared an imperative need of introducing sign language as a third language in all schools. Anita Iyer also raised an alarm and a desperate need for a uniform Indian sign language across all Indian states.
“Without things being accessible digitally, a significant number of people are stuck without the ability to bank, to shop, or to communicate with their friends and family, during these COVID times”, said Christopher Patnoe – Head of Accessibility Programme & Disability Inclusion, Google, USA, highlighting the cracks in the system post COVID.
“The government should incentivise films on disabilities or give a tax break to encourage more filmmakers. Also, short disability awareness films could be played in theatres during intervals.” suggested the Indian filmmaker Shonali Bose, Director-Margarita with a Straw.
Anita Iyer, Ekansh Trust and Gaurav Raheja, IIT Roorkee emphasised the need of unisex toilets and need of data on usage and utility of public toilets.
Hardeep Rai of Kaliedoscope Group, UK suggested to form a committee of people and reach out to the government for a greater engagement and support to the disabled entrepreneurs. He also suggested banks and bigger corporates to step forward to offer their office premises for entrepreneurs working in the area of disability.
“Equipping accessibility both infrastructural or technological to all people with disabilities will enable them to perform across sectors, which is the first challenge that India needs to address” said Pranav Desai – Founder, Voice of SAP (USA)
Dr. Nimesh G Desai-Director, IHBAS, Tasneem Raja, Tata Trusts, Dr.Manoj Kumar, Founder-MHAT and Dr. Samir Parikh, Director, Fortis Mental Health together resonated on the urgent need of community support and addressing mental health like any other ailment.
“This is an important conversation, and my participation allowed me to learn new things, and inspired me that we are all working to help the fashion industry design with disabilities in mind” stated Stephanie Thomas, Disability Fashion Stylist
“It is pretty difficult to be an entrepreneur in a neglected segment like this. The event like the National Ability Summit helps folks like us get some visibility and hopefully will also lead to others taking up such initiatives.” applauded Srikrishan S, Cofounder Kickstart Services Pvt. Ltd, a startup focusing on people with mobility issues.
The speakers at the summit were:
1. Rachel Arfa, Commissioner of Mayor’s office, City of Chicago for people with Disabilities (USA)
2. Meg O’Connell, CEO & founder, Global Disability Inclusion, (USA)
3. Gaurav Raheja, Professor of Architecture, IIT ROORKEE, Accessibility Consultant & Universal Design Expert, Advisor, Accessible India Campaign (India)
4. Prakriti Poddar, Global Head – Mental Health at Round Glass, Managing Trustee – Poddar Foundation, (Canada)
5. Anita Iyer, Founder & Managing Trustee – Ekansh Trust, (India)
6. Ira Singhal, Brand Ambassador for Department of Disability, Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment, Government of India, (India)
7. Sandhya Menon, An Independent Journalist, (India)
8. Christopher Patnoe, Head of Accessibility Programme & Disability Inclusion, Google, Board Member, (USA))
9. Rich Donovan, CEO, The Return on Disability Group, Author of Unleash Different (Canada)
10. Nikki Hind, Australia’s 1st Blind Fashion Designer, Disability Leader, Social Entrepreneur (Australia)
11. Pranav Desai, Founder of Voice of SAP (USA)
12. Shilpi Kapoor, Founder of Barrier Break, 247Accessible Documents & Newz Hook-Disability and Accessibility News(India)
13. Mansi Dholakia, CEO, Global Mental Health Association, (USA)
14. Ravindra Singh, CEO at Skill Council for Persons with Disabilities (India)
15. Grishma Shah, Chicago Reelabilities Film Festival, Co-Director (USA)
16. Matthew Skerritt, Founder EveryHuman ( Adaptive Fashion) Australia
17. Shannon Willard, Director Sales, Silvert’s Adaptive Clothing and Footwear (USA)
18. Mohan Sundaram-Founder Artilabs Foundation, President-Disability NGO Association
19. Isaac Zablocki-co-founder, ReelAbilities: NY Film Festival, Director: Isreal Film Center(USA)
20. Stephanie, Founder & CEO-Cur8able, Disability Fashion Stylist (USA)
21. Dr. Manoj Kumar, Founder & Clinical Director, Mental Health Action Trust (MHAT), Kerala (India)
22. Shonali Bose, Indian Filmmaker |Producer, Writer, Director – Amu |
Producer, Writer, Director – Margarita with a Straw |
Writer, Director – The Sky is Pink | (India)
23. Keely Wells, Disability Activist, CEO-C Talent, Founder-Zetta Studios (USA)
24. James Lebrecht, Co-Director, CRIP CAMP, Sound Mixer, Minding The Gap, The Waiting Room, The Revolutionary Optimists, Board Member-Disability Rights Education & Defence Fund (USA)
25. Dr. Samir Parikh, Director, Fortis Mental Health (India)
26. Tasneem Raja, Lead Mental Health, Tata Trusts (India)
27. Parul Sharma, Country Program Manager- World Enabled (India)
28. Dr. Nimesh G Desai-Director, Institute of Human Behaviour & Allied Sciences (IHBAS) (India)
29. Kush Kanodia, Chief Disability Officer, The Kaleidoscope Group of companies, Board Member, Global Disability Innovation Hub, Governor, Chelsea and Westminster Hospital, Ambassador, Disability Rights, UK
30. Suhas Lalinakere Yathiraj, IAS, District Magistrate, Noida, (India)
31. Robin Christopherson – Head of Digital Inclusion-AbilityNet (UK)
32. Hardeep Rai – Group Chief Executive Officer, The Kaleidoscope Group of Comapanies, (UK)
33. Balendu Sharma – Director, Localization and Accessibility, Microsoft (India)
34. Jonathan Hassell – CEO & Founder, Hassell Inclusion (UK)
35. Balendu Sharma – Director, Localization and Accessibility, Microsoft (India)
36. Hardeep Rai – Group Chief Executive Officer, The Kaleidoscope Group of Companies (UK)
37. Michele Clopper – Director, Disability Resources (USA)
38. Judith E. Heumann – International Disability Rights Advocate, The Heumann Perspective (USA)
39. Sumit Chakraberty – Consulting Editor, Mint (India)
40. Adam J. Hecktman – Director of Corporate Affairs, Microsoft Philantropy (USA)
41. Michal Rimon – CEO, Access Israel (Israel)
42. Leher Sethi – Director, Something Creative (India)
43. Rakhee Bakshee – Founder and Editor-in-chief, HER-WORLD |Political Analyst, ABP News (India)
The Summit recordings can be viewed on