A Special Consultative Status to the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) was conferred on Voice of Specially Abled People (VOSAP). The US based non-profit, which received this rare honor in August, is one of four NGOs working in India in the disability sector to have received this status. It marks a huge step forward for the organization which empowers Specially Abled people by pushing for greater accessibility in public places, economic opportunities, inclusion, and their right to live a life of equality and dignity.
Some of the privileges this status brings are opportunities to consult with member states and the UN system, access to UN’s offices in New York, Geneva and Vienna and the use of their facilities. It also enables ECOSOC to tap VOSAP for its expertise.
For VOSAP’s Founder Pranav Desai who calls this a “milestone achievement,” the cause is very personal. At the age of 4, Desai was stricken with polio and lost the use of both his legs. Tested by daily challenges from climbing stairs (the family lived on the 4th floor for 10 years) to convincing educational institutions to admit him, he credits his parents for never treating him differently from his siblings nor making any particular concessions for him. This matter-of-fact “acceptance of reality” and his own innate drive, he retrospects, allowed him to believe in himself and make a mark in the mainstream world.
Desai’s Engineering and MBA degrees coupled with his expertise in SAP software brought him to the US in 1999. He is currently VP at Nippon Telegraphs and Telephones Data and based out of Los Angeles. Citing his own life as an example, he points to his cane and braces which help him walk, he drives his own car and as Head of Sales travels extensively. He is thankful for these opportunities and his singular goal is to help others achieve the same.
VOSAP, the Ahmedabad native explains, is a global team of 8000 plus volunteers who have come together to help Specially Abled people rise above their disabilities. His wife, Usha is a co-founder and the couple’s efforts has already made a significant impact in India with its “Accessible India” campaign.
Sharing a unique perspective, Desai says that each of us is “temporarily abled.” One mishap, one misstep or the inevitable process of aging can make us disabled. He emphasizes the importance of coming together to uplift the millions of people whose needs and aspirations are largely ignored due to their disability.
The organization’s volunteers reach out to corporations, religious organizations, social and political leaders to “sensitize” them, foster conversations about disability and bring about a greater acceptance for them. Sewing machines, wheel chairs and hearing aids are distributed on a monthly basis, made possible by fundraisers and generous donors. Sparsh Shah, the singing prodigy who was born with the Brittle Bones Disease, is VOSAP’s articulate Youth Ambassador.
According to WHO’s statistics, 15% of the world’s population suffers from some disability but India’s figures are dubious due to social stigma, lack of benefits and its vague definition. Some estimates put the number at seven crores. Additionally, special facilities are scarce to non-existent.
However, this seems to be changing. When the Modi government came to power in 2014, Desai met the Prime Minister in a one-on-one meeting to work on a comprehensive new law for people with disabilities. When the proposals were presented to Modi after 2 years, it was approved by him in six hours, passed through both the Houses of Parliament and went to the President for his signature all “within 30 days.” The law provides for greater awareness of disability, revised building codes, 4% reservation for public sector jobs, insurance and reimbursed training. Desai is also an Advisor to the Department of Empowerment of People with Disability in the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment, Government of India.
Desai has also created an App (VOSAP) which allows volunteers to photograph a building’s accessibility. The App updates this information using GPS and helps people in wheelchairs find places they can visit based on accessibility ratings and comments.
A motivational speaker, Pranav wants to use his voice for the Specially Abled in every part of the world. Be the change maker in your community, he urges, be compassionate and most importantly, be accepting of those with disabilities. To learn more about the organization, download the App or visit www.voiceofsap.org.