Keeping up political momentum on disability and development

Natasha Kennedy, December 2017
Three women sat outside talking.
A group of visually impaired girls wearing Sightsavers tracksuits, laughing.
A group of visually impaired young women who have completed self-defence training in India.

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.

Recommendations for creating a disability-inclusive society

1. Putting people with disabilities at the heart of decision-making

People with disabilities have a right to participate and engage in development policies and programmes – this right is enshrined in the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD), as are other important rights including education, freedom from discrimination and the right to health.

By 2020, all States must have ratified the UNCRPD and be putting it into place in national legislation. This includes adopting legislation to promote the human rights of people with disabilities and abolish discrimination; protect and promote the rights of people with disabilities in all policies and programmes; provide accessible information about assistive technology to people with disabilities; promote training on the rights of the Convention to professionals and staff who work with people with disabilities; and consult with and involve people with disabilities in developing and implementing legislation and policies, as well as in decision-making processes that concern them.

2. Investing more resources

The summit needs to secure additional financing for disability. There is currently no common understanding of the level of financing required to deliver the global commitments on disability and as a consequence, no understanding of the unmet financial need.

Donor countries to the World Bank (including the UK) commit to making disability a special theme of IDA 19, putting people with disabilities at the centre of the next funding round. The International Development Association (IDA) is the part of the World Bank that aims to reduce poverty by providing loans and grants for programmes that boost economic growth, reduce inequalities, and improve people’s living conditions. It has never focused on disability before, so if we can get countries to make disability a theme of IDA, then we will truly be reaching those people who are most excluded and marginalised.

3. Strengthening accountability

The summit needs to secure commitments to strengthen accountability, which is particularly weak within the context of disability. There is a lack of knowledge and understanding about how national and global commitments and targets are being implemented, and the impact it is having on the lives of people with disabilities.

We are calling on the UK to lead the development of a roadmap for inclusion to measure progress against the commitments made. This accountability mechanism would lay out a vision of disability-inclusive development and set out the series of milestones, that together, would deliver it step by step. As well as the milestone on IDA 19, another commitment would be to advocate for another member state to host a second global conference on disability in 2023 to review progress made.

4. Closing the knowledge and data gap

All countries and partners need to commit to collecting and using comparable data on disability. Nationally and internationally, there is a lack of data on disability and weak data collection systems, which often grossly under-estimate the prevalence of disability. This makes it all too easy for decision-makers to overlook the rights and needs of people with disabilities, their families and communities. In many of our countries government data shows only about three per cent of people have a disability, but when we use the Washington Group Short Set of questions (WGSS) that increases to 11-15 per cent. There needs to be agreement on how to measure disability and the WGSS are designed with this in mind.

By meeting these commitments, the international development community will be moving in the right direction towards the achievement of a truly disability-inclusive society.



Natasha Kennedy smilingNatasha Kennedy
Natasha is Head of Multilateral Engagement and Campaigns at Sightsavers.

Want to read more about our work?

Neglected tropical diseases
Gertrude Oforiwa Fefoame speaking into a microphone.
Sightsavers blog

“A devastating toll”: COVID-19 and intersecting forms of discrimination

COVID-19 has shown the need for systems to accommodate the new risks we face. Why not take the opportunity to build them back in a way that is inclusive?

An elderly woman and a younger woman sit next to a man who holds a clipboard, in a hospital waiting area.
Sightsavers blog

Celebrating the Inclusive Data Charter’s second birthday

Linsey Winter shares how the Inclusive Data Charter is helping to accelerate action on collecting and using data that includes everyone.

Linsey Winter, July 2020
Three social inclusion participants are in a line smiling at the camera.
Sightsavers blog

Building back inclusively after COVID-19

COVID-19 has shown the need for systems to accommodate the new risks we face. Why not take the opportunity to build them back in a way that is inclusive?

Imran Khan, July 2020