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Meet the team: Shivani Gupta

Our “meet the team” series captures the stories and experiences of some of our wonderful colleagues at GDI Hub. We will be covering what led them into the disability innovation sector, their expertise and current projects, and any tips they can share for others wanting to pursue a career in a similar field.

In this sixth edition we met with Shivani our Senior Inclusive Design Manager

I would emphasize the need for keeping persons with disabilities at the heart of your work and the importance of co-working with them.

Shivani Gupta

Hi Shivani, tell us a bit about yourself and your journey in the disability space.

My story begins with a life-altering incident that reshaped my trajectory. In 1992, a sudden accident left me with a disability, thrusting me into a world where accessibility and awareness were scarce. Undeterred by the challenges, I embarked on a transformative journey that would eventually redefine accessibility of the built environment in India and beyond.

In the early years after joining the Indian Spinal Injury Centre as a peer counselor, I laid the foundation for my future endeavors. It was during this time that I attended a training organised by the UNESCAP, Thailand on non-handicapping environments for persons with disabilities. This experience became me a turning point, igniting my passion for advocating accessible environments and the empowerment of disabled individuals. In 2000, I spearheaded training programs for government officials across India, laying the groundwork for awareness and advocacy. I also conducted accessibility reviews of various buildings, collaborating closely with the government to instil the importance of inclusive design.

Driven by a desire to deepen my understanding of architecture and accessibility, I pursued a diploma in architecture technology and later a postgraduate degree from the University of Reading in the UK. My academic journey culminated in a Ph.D., focusing on the support structures available to persons with disabilities in rural India. I am also a Bridge CRPD SDG training alumina and trainer (A training developed and facilitated by IDA and CBM Global)

Through consultancy work which extended beyond India's borders, reaching countries like Egypt, Jordan, Pakistan, and Fiji, where I engaged in diverse projects to capacity development, research and advocating for inclusive environments, assistive devices, support services, inclusive disaster risk reduction and public procurement. I also led an UNOPS project in Geneva to increase accessibility for persons with disabilities to the Human Rights Council sessions.

How did you get involved with GDI Hub?

My association with GDI Hub began with a consultancy, leading to my involvement in the ADB Boot Camp in 2021. Presently, I work as the Senior Inclusive Design Manager. My role involves developing our offering in Asia and contribute to the AT2030 research, aiming to work with the team to publish a comparison report that delves into accessibility issues across six cities and a Global Action Report for Inclusive Cities this year.

What is your advice to those aspiring to enter this field?

I would emphasize the need for keeping persons with disabilities at the heart of your work and the importance of co-working with them. Disability inclusion must be viewed through a human rights lens. I discourage the charity-driven approach, urging individuals to focus on sustainable, long-term impacts that empower disabled individuals rather than providing temporary solutions.

Outside work, what do you enjoy doing?

Outside work, I find solace in activities such as gardening, cooking, and watercolor painting. I have also written my autobiography, "No Looking Back," published in 2014. The book provides a glimpse into my journey. It shows the indomitability of the human spirit in the face of overwhelming odds and hope it inspires others.

What do you enjoy about your work with GDI Hub?

I love GDI Hub's work culture, appreciating the open and friendly environment. Despite being a relatively recent addition to the team, I am happy with the values and sustained pace of global work that allows me for a broader impact.

What exciting projects are you working on?

I am excited about the accelerator collaboration with IIT Delhi and the exciting opportunity for collaboration and knowledge exchange. I am also excited about participating and contributing to the upcoming Asia and the Pacific Transport Forum organised by the Asia Development Bank in Manila.