The announcement by the Department for International Development (DFID) that it will host its first ever global disability summit next year is the culmination of growing global political momentum, recognising the fact that people with disabilities have been routinely excluded from development and its benefits.
One billion people across the globe have a disability, and 80 per cent of these live in developing countries. They represent some of the most excluded and difficult to reach of all groups. Facing significant levels of stigma and discrimination, people with disabilities are often ‘invisible’ from official statistics and cannot easily engage with governments and decision-makers, meaning their voices and opinions are not taken into account.
Systematically excluding more than one billion people from decision-making globally has been a huge missed opportunity –politically, socially and economically.
This is why at Sightsavers we have been campaigning for disability-inclusive development since the launch of our Put Us in the Picture campaign, with a key ask being that the UK government meets its commitment to become the global leader on disability-inclusive development.
Since publishing its first ever Disability Framework in 2014, DFID has shown a real commitment to strengthening its own capacity and knowledge on disability. By focusing on embedding disability inclusion across its organisation, DFID is having a direct impact on the work it does itself, and consecutive governments have provided continuing political support on disability as a development priority under DFID’s leadership.
However, in addition to these important internal changes, the framework focused on DFID’s role in the global development community, putting disability at its heart.
The Bilateral Development Review, published last year, underpinned and clearly set out for the first time DFID’s global vision for disability: “a world where no one is left behind … a world where people with disabilities have a voice, choice and control over the decisions that affect them.” The UK government made a commitment to be “the global leader in the neglected and under-prioritised area” of inclusive development.
Now by hosting a global disability summit, the UK government is publically committing to lead the international development community in making disability-inclusive development a global priority.
To put this in context, huge steps have been made in recent years, helping to put disability front of mind in discussions around development.
To begin with, there was the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in 2006 which put in place for the first time a global framework to promote, protect and ensure the full and equal enjoyment of all human rights by all people with disabilities. Continuing on from this, the World Report on Disability in 2011 found a “large and unacceptable gap between the quality of life for people with disabilities and others” and built up to the significant mobilisation of the global disability community through the post 2015 negotiations, leading to the inclusion of disability in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
Now we need to make sure this political momentum is not lost, but is strengthened and deepened as the global community strives to deliver against these ambitious global agendas.
The change we seek
By positioning itself as an authority on disability-inclusive development, DFID is able to bring the international community together to influence the organisations it partners with globally.
A global disability summit provides the opportunity to secure financial and political commitments by national governments and multilateral institutions to turn policy frameworks into action, and ultimately deliver real and lasting change to the lives of people with disabilities.
To deliver meaningful change, disability-inclusive development must be systematically embedded into global practices and people with disabilities must be empowered to participate and have a voice in decisions that affect them.
What is needed is a bold vision for delivering disability inclusion that the UK’s partners and multilateral organisations such as the World Bank can commit to, implement and monitor.
2018 is the year that the UK government needs to accelerate progress in this area by mobilising global and national commitments to realise its vision of disability-inclusive development – below are our four recommendations for making this a reality.