Shivani Gupta founded AccessAbility following the completion of her M.Sc. in ‘Inclusive Environments — Design and Management’ from the University of Reading, UK. Participating in a ‘Training of Trainers programme on non-handicapping environments for persons with disabilities and the elderly’ organised at the UN ESCAP headquarters in Thailand in the year 2000, was a life-altering moment for her. It changed her perspective towards disability from the medical approach that for inclusion requires the disabled person be fixed, to a social approach where the society needed to become more accessible and inclusive to enable persons with disabilities to participate on an equal bases. She realised that accessibility and participation of disabled people was directly proportionate and recognised promotion of accessibility as her mission. Following this understanding she made herself more knowledgeable about the subject by studying further and getting a Diploma in Architecture Technology in 2004 and a Masters degree in the subject before starting AccessAbility. She is now a name to reckon with. Apart from her work at the national level, Shivani has worked on international projects as a consultant with the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, the International Disability Alliance (IDA), and CBM International. She has also co-authored publications pertaining to improving accessibility in physical environments, public procurement, assistive devices, support services and so on.
For her achievements in the disability sector, and her personal courage, Shivani has received national and international acclaim. She has been honoured with the Helen Keller Award (2008), the CavinKare Ability Mastery Award (2008), the National Role Model Award (2004), the Neerja Bhanot Award (2004), the Red and White Social Bravery Award (1999), and the Sulabh International Woman of the Year Award (1996).
While her work at AccessAbility gained laurels but personal tragedy made her take a back seat for a while. However, even these years of healing and regain strength were aptly used by her to pen down her memoirs titled ‘No Looking Back’ as a disabled women in India who struggles to accept the disability and find normality in life by making friends, being financially independent, finding love, and being accepted as being capable by the society. It was also during these years that she worked on revising and drafting the accessibility chapter of the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act, 2016, that much to her delight now streamlines the process of building in accessibility into the system itself.
Being a person driven by knowledge and challenges, she received her doctorate in 2021 from the Maastricht University in the Netherlands and received full fellowship for the external affairs minister of Holland. Being attracted to addressing different and unaddressed challenges related to disability the area of her research revolves around implementation of article 19 of the CRPD in rural India with a specific focus on the support structures that exist for the rural disabled people and how that influences their lives quality and outcomes. In the future she hopes to focus more of her work on these aspects.