Inclusive, accessible social behaviour change: what it is and how to do it

Cathy Stephen, June 2023

Promoting healthy and inclusive behaviours and social norms is vital to our work at Sightsavers to protect sight and fight for disability rights.

Behaviours driven by stigma, negative stereotyping and discriminatory attitudes present a major obstacle to people with disabilities being able to access equal rights in society.

The field of social behaviour change (SBC) helps address this. Inclusive and accessible SBC means:

  • We work with partners to make sure processes are disability inclusive
  • We design materials and activities that are accessible for people with diverse disabilities
  • We use SBC to reduce stigma faced by people with disabilities, including mental health conditions

At Sightsavers, we’ve been on a journey to learn and grow our expertise in the field of inclusive and accessible social behaviour change.

What we’ve done

We’ve put together a team that focuses on social behaviour change, including regional SBC technical leads in East and West Africa and an inclusive design lead. The team brings together our SBC skills and expertise across the breadth of the organisation’s work, from inclusive design to accessible delivery.

We’ve developed an SBC toolkit with practical tools to help increase staff capacity and confidence. The toolkit supports everyone from project managers and country directors to fundraisers and monitoring staff.

We’ve created an SBC community of practice which is a virtual space for Sightsavers staff to collaborate and share experiences and learning on SBC. Within this community (which meets monthly), we’ve used learning questions like: “What are the most effective ways of reducing disability stigma?” to help discuss what is working well and what isn’t across our different thematic areas and countries.

As we’ve gone through this process, we’ve gained knowledge and confidence. We’re making inclusive and accessible SBC an embedded element in an increasing number of our projects and guiding our partners and other development organisations to do the same.

Enoch, who uses a wheelchair, smiles and waves at the camera.

Disability rights

Disability rights are human rights. Together, we can create a more equal world where everyone can access education, employment and health care without facing stigma or discrimination.

About our work

Inclusive, accessible SBC in practice

Inclusive family planning

Our inclusive family planning project aims to reduce unmet needs for family planning and to increase access to contraceptives for people with disabilities, particularly adolescent girls. It is part of our approach to inclusive sexual and reproductive health and rights. Through the project we have mainstreamed disability inclusion and accessibility into our social behaviour change work.

Through this project we’ve learned the importance of listening and reducing assumptions. We’ve focused on the experiences of people with disabilities – men, women, young people and adolescents – and their families, to understand the specific barriers they face in accessing family planning and modern contraceptives, and to learn what might support change. We’ve also talked to and involved community leaders, health workers, the media and people working in the state family planning team to consider how to make change.

People with disabilities have played leading roles in the development of SBC strategy, activities and materials. We did this by running co-creation workshops incorporating two design groups with participants who have diverse disabilities and perspectives. This is vital in making sure the project is effective and reaching the right people in the right way.

We’ve mainstreamed disability inclusion and accessibility into our social behaviour change work.

Ghana Somubi Dwumadie

Another area we’ve gained knowledge is in learning how to deliver SBC to reduce disability and mental health stigma in Ghana. Ghana Somubi Dwumadie (Ghana Participation Project) is a four-year disability programme in Ghana, with a specific focus on mental health. This programme is funded with UK aid from the UK government.

In the Ghana Somubi Dwumadie we worked with ‘inclusion champions’ (community members, including people with disabilities, who acted as prole models demonstrating positive behaviours). The champions had influence in the community to help identify and reduce the use of negative disability language, and worked with religious and traditional leaders to increase support to and acceptance of disability.

We are carrying out further research on our approaches to reducing disability and mental health stigma, to identify what is effective, acceptable and appropriate. This will help to fill a Ghanaian – and global – research gap on what works, and what is acceptable for people with disabilities and mental health conditions, to reduce stigma.

Accessibility pack

We created an accessibility pack for inclusive communications to help our staff and partners to create materials and activities that are easy to understand and user friendly so everyone has equal access.

Joseph Mensah

SBC: a gamechanger to reduce stigma

Sightsavers’ Joseph Mensah shares four key learnings from a SBC programme in Ghana that aims to reduce stigma around disability and mental health.

Read the blog

SBC for everyone

The main takeaways from embedding inclusive, accessible social behaviour change processes in our work are:

  • Start by listening, and challenge your own assumptions. As we learned with our family planning project, this allows space for work to be grounded in the realities of barriers faced by people with disabilities and for unorthodox solutions to be considered.
  • It’s essential to make sure that SBC design is co-led by people with disabilities. Having people with lived experience in key roles ensures we embed disability inclusion and accessibility in all SBC partnerships, processes and design work.
  • Use an SBC approach to reduce disability stigma. As we have learned in Ghana, we need to understand the factors driving stigma in the contexts we work, such as misconceptions or stereotyping. And then we should work with local leaders and support people with disabilities to drive a change in language and behaviours.

If you’re on an SBC journey and would value advice, guidance or help to get involved with inclusive and accessible social behaviour change, we’d love to hear from you! Contact Cathy by emailing [email protected]


Cathy Stephen.Cathy Stephen
Cathy Stephen is Sightsavers’ global technical lead for behaviour change communication.


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