New Delhi: Javed Abidi, a pioneer of the cross-disability movement in India and an outspoken voice against discrimination of differently abled people in the global South, died on Sunday. He was 53.

Abidi was instrumental in the drafting and passage of The Persons with Disabilities (Equal Opportunities, Protection of Rights and Full Participation) Act, 1995 and was the director of the National Centre for Promotion of Employment for Disabled People, which he has set up in 1996. He was also the founder of the Disability Rights Group, and the Convener of the National Disability Network, India.

Initial reports suggest that Abidi succumbed to a chest infection at a private hospital in national capital Delhi. He is survived by his mother, younger brother and sister.

Born in Aligarh in 1965 with congenital spina bifida, a developmental disorder, he traversed the world on a wheelchair, advocating the rights of the disabled. At the age of fifteen he became a wheelchair-user. Despite difficulties, he studied at Wright State University in the United States, and returned back to India in 1989 to seek a career in journalism.

Satendra Singh, Disability Rights Activist and Henry Viscardi Achievement Awardee, said Abidi’s untimely death is not only a loss for Indian disability sector but also for the whole international disability community, since he was the main voice from South Asia and that of developing countries. “He brought visibility to the disability sector in India, and whatever has happened for the past few decades, it was entirely his effort," he said.

Singh noted that the Abidi had a specific focus on youth with disability and had been developing the capacity building of new age disability activists in the country. All of us who are working in disability sector now all of them are mentored by him only," he added.

“I had known him in a professional capacity but always knew him as someone who had been fighting for the rights for the longest time," said Divyanshu Ganatra, a Pune-based blind psychologist, disability rights advocate and India’s first blind solo paraglider.

Following the news of his demise, the social media was flooded with reactions of grief.

Considered by some as the father of India’s disability movement, Abidi is credited with galvanizing the movement for disability cause and was instrumental in the creation and capacity building of the present generation of disability rights activists.

He travelled tirelessly across the world on a wheelchair, advocating the rights of disabled people, and stressed that disability movements must focus on the global south including in India, for this is where nearly 800 million of the world’s one billion people with disabilities live. Lending voice to an “invisible minority"- one that has been denied to them for decades, he stayed at the forefront activisms that catalyzed changes in the policy and legislative space.

He has been the director of National Centre for Promotion of Employment for Disabled People since 1997. In October 2011, he was appointed world chair of Disabled People’s International (DPI), a global organization working for the rights of people living with disabilities.

In 2013, Abidi took over as the vice-chair of the International Disability Alliance, a global alliance working for disability causes. He set up the disability wing of the Rajiv Gandhi Foundation in India, after being invited to do so by Sonia Gandhi. His letter to the Chief Justice of India in 2004 on making polling booths accessible to persons with disabilities was converted into a writ petition. The Supreme Court then passed directions to make the voting process accessible.

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