Of the billion people worldwide who have a disability, the vast majority live in developing countries. People with disabilities represent some of the most excluded of all groups in the community.
They are less likely to have access to healthcare and education, and in turn find making a livelihood and escaping poverty that much more difficult, if not impossible.
In 2000 world leaders agreed an ambitious development framework consisting of eight Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) – however one critical group was largely left out. The exclusion of disability from the MDGs has materially affected many people with disabilities, along with their families and wider communities.
People like Shyam, from India, who has been visually impaired for the last 15 years. Like everyone around him, he wants a job and a family but at the moment these things seem out of reach: “In all families, even my own, people think you’re useless,” he says. “In society, if you have no money and no work you’re considered a burden and people won’t talk to you.”
Sightsavers has been involved in thinking about what replaces the Millennium Development Goals when they expire next year for a long time. Sometimes it feels like a millennium. Although the goals being discussed in a series of UN-led processes are officially being called the Sustainable Development Goals, the debate is often referred to as ‘Post 2015’.
I’m starting to think that maybe that’s not helping. Because what we’re really after is change, not a continuation of the same – which is a bit what Post 2015 conjures up. So I’ve been talking to colleagues and partners globally, about just one thing they think should be different in 2030, to the way the world looks now.
One thing I’d like to see being different is the universal inclusion of people with disabilities in political, social, economic and environmental developments. Because it is their human right to be included. Because no effort to eliminate poverty will be successful without their inclusion. Because not to do so is to consign another generation of children with disabilities to a life without education, with limited economic opportunity, with poorer health and with no involvement in the decisions that affect their daily lives.
With today’s publication of the government’s Disability Framework, DFID has taken a big step forwards in being part of the transformation of the opportunities for people with disabilities to shape their own lives.
As a leading aid donor, the UK has a unique opportunity to influence the next set of development goals in setting an example and ensuring that UK aid is fully inclusive of people with disabilities.
It is also in a strong position to influence its multilateral, bilateral and NGO partners and therefore positively impact, on a much wider scale, the lives of the 800 million people with disabilities living in developing countries.
DFID spends over 50 per cent of its budget through multilateral agencies, so this could play a critical role in making these agencies more inclusive of disability. Within the UK, DFID spends £150m a year through central funds allocated to UK NGOs and has promised to ensure that all of the programmes it funds through these mechanisms consider their impact on people with disabilities.
Agencies in the UK and across the world will be encouraged and supported to include disability in their planning and implementation of development programmes.
Today sees the policy change that the Sightsavers’ Put us in the Picture campaign has been calling for. The publication of this framework offers the potential to dramatically transform the lives of people with disabilities across the world by addressing stigma and discrimination; ensuring children with disabilities access a quality education; empowering adults to gain employment; and delivering health services that are accessible to all.
I believe these things are achievable globally and this framework puts the UK government at the heart of that picture.
By Dominic Haslam, Director of Policy and Programme Strategy at Sightsavers