Change Agents: Reframing the Disability Experience

March 30, 2023


4:00 pm - 5:00 pm

Change Agents: Reframing the Disability Experience

More than 21 million Indians live with some form of disability. They comprise over 2.2 per cent of India’s population but their role in creating development pathways and as agents of change is little understood. While there has been a policy push on securing persons with disabilities through The Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act, 2016 among other measures, they also remain vulnerable on multiple fronts. These vulnerabilities impact almost all areas of their lives such as accessing quality healthcare and education, sustained livelihoods, and participation in the political system.

The Disability Rights movement in India has a rich legacy of pushing for the dignity of persons with disabilities, and in doing so has offered lessons for other marginalised communities. In the first Coffee Chat of a series, through the experiences of two actors, we aim to unpack some key features of how they have engaged with government and CSO spaces to secure rights and entitlements. In particular, the focus will be on:-

  • Standing up for one to stand up for all: Why representation has mattered and the steps that have been taken to improve their representation in the mainstream and at the decision-making table.
  • Engagement with the government system: Experiences of policy advocacy, tactics and tools deployed by such actors and the impact.

The Dignity Series aims to shine a light on community-level collectives that have emerged from vulnerable groups and how they develop, access their demands, navigate the CSO and government spaces. For development practitioners, this is an excellent chance to hear from communities in their own voice; perspectives we hope will help shape their work and programmes.


  • Arman Ali is the Executive Director of National Centre For Promotion Of Employment For Disabled People (NCPEDP) which works for advancing the vision of building a society where people with disabilities are equal members leading dignified lives through economic independence. Having worked in the development sector with diversified leadership roles, Arman is on the mission to create an inclusive society where no one is left behind. He is a champion for disability rights in India, having worked for over two decades in influencing legislation and policies for empowerment of people with disabilities. Serving in advisory roles with the Election Commission of India, National Human Rights Commission, Ministry of Social Justice of Empowerment. A thinker, leader and doer with an intense passion for inclusion and accessibility, Arman has brought a fresh and rational approach to disability rights movement in India. His pursuit of equality and dignity for persons with disabilities took him to the organizations where his exemplary endeavors were instrumental to the cause.
  • Smitha Sadasivan is a social activist passionate about accessibility and inclusivity of persons with disabilities at all domains including civil political socio cultural, financial legal and administrative contexts. She is a member of the Civil Society Engagement Mechanism for UHC 2030, while also serving on the Steering Committee of the UHC 2030 initiative overall. In her native state of Tamil Nadu, she serves on the State Advisory Board for Persons with Disabilities under the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, the Disability Rights Alliance. At the national level, she is a member of the Multiple Sclerosis Society of India and the Election Commission. Smitha has degrees in English Literature and Psychology.


  • Avantika Shrivastava is Associate Fellow – Communications @Accountability Initiative, Centre for Policy Research. She has worked as a strategic communications professional with Oxfam and Doctors Without Borders in Delhi. Before making a transition to the development sector, she was a journalist at news agency Press Trust of India. Avantika holds an MSc in International Development from the University of Edinburgh where she was a Global Development Academy Masters Scholar, a PG Diploma from the Indian Institute of Mass Communication, and BA in Journalism from the University of Delhi. She has also been a Global Thinkers Forum mentee.



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