The key to inclusive education is engaging organisations of people with disabilities

Johannes Trimmel, February 2024

In global development programmes, despite widespread recognition of the need to be more inclusive, it’s still not standard practice for organisations to consult with and involve people with disabilities – even for those programmes that specifically want to reach people with disabilities.

But neglecting to do this compromises the strength of what a programme sets out to achieve and excludes people from the decision-making processes that affect their lives. This lack of participation can also mean any positive outcomes from the project are not sustained in the long term.

In the Sightsavers-led Inclusive Futures consortium, our partner organisations have committed to ensuring that organisations of people with disabilities (OPDs) have a central role in how we design, implement, monitor and evaluate our projects.

Collaborating with OPDs on our inclusive education projects has earned Inclusive Futures a Zero Project Award in 2024. The awards recognise innovative and scalable solutions to disability inclusion from around the world and are presented at the Zero Conference, held in Vienna from 21-23 February 2024.

It’s an achievement we’re incredibly proud of, because it recognises that we have successfully demonstrated not only that it’s possible to build collaborative relationships with OPDs, but that it leads to better results.

Attending the Zero Conference Awards?

Join our session on collaborative partnerships on Wednesday 21 February, 2.40-4pm CET.

About the session
A large group of people in Nigeria hold up copies of a guide for parents of children with disabilities information about how to support their children’s education.
People in Nigeria celebrate the launch of a guide that will help parents of children with disabilities support their child’s education.

Collaboration is critical

Through our inclusive education programmes in Bangladesh, Kenya, Nepal, Nigeria and Tanzania, we tackle the barriers that prevent children with disabilities from attending school – including children with multiple and complex disabilities and other learning support requirements. So far, our work has supported nearly 1,700 children with disabilities to access education.

Our education initiatives have been made stronger by engaging OPDs throughout each programme cycle – from design to evaluation. This collaboration doesn’t just help in identifying and removing barriers to learning for children with disabilities. It also helps transform attitudes in the communities where we work, and in the education sector more widely. This is critical, as it will ensure that children with disabilities continue to be included beyond the programme period.

The OPDs we’ve worked with have been instrumental in many aspects of our programmes, including community outreach, peer-to-peer support for parents, accessibility guidance for schools and strengthening local systems.

International Disability Alliance (IDA)

The global representative alliance of OPDs co-leads our initiative and has been instrumental in shaping our approach to meaningfully engaging OPDs.

Learn about IDA

Community outreach

Community outreach activities are vital to identify children with disabilities and encourage families and caregivers to enrol them in regular schools. In our inclusive early childhood development and education (ECDE) programme in Kenya, our partner OPDs in Homa Bay and Turkana County led community outreach activities to change the attitudes of parents, teachers and communities, who previously thought children with disabilities had no place in mainstream education and should stay at home. This resulted in 600 children with disabilities (living in varied settings, from rural homes to a refugee camp) being able to access inclusive early education.

Peer-to-peer support for parents

In our Support Mainstreaming Inclusion so all Learn Equally (SMILE) programme in northern Nigeria, our OPD partners produced a parent support guide to give parents of children with disabilities information about how to support their children’s education and where they can go to access available medical and social support services. As a result of this, and thanks to efforts to raise awareness of the importance of inclusive education within communities, 280 children with disabilities were enrolled in eight Kaduna state primary schools, significantly exceeding the number envisaged at the beginning of the project.

Accessibility guidance

Across our education programmes, OPD partners have guided teachers, school-based management committees and teacher-parent associations on how they can make learning accessible for children with different disabilities. In our Education for All programme in Bangladesh, our OPD partners are carrying out accessibility audits and helping to complete school improvement plans at 45 project schools in the Narshingdi and Sirajganj districts, to make them more inclusive and accessible for children with disabilities.

Strengthening local systems

A key objective of our education programmes is to improve national systems so they become more inclusive of children with disabilities. This involves working with our OPD partners to identify and strengthen any knowledge, resource or skills gaps, and supporting them to work alongside education officials in government committees to influence how policies on inclusive education are made and implemented at a local and national level. In Kenya, our local OPD partner has been able to successfully advocate for inclusive education provision to be included in county development plans and budgets.

Even when our projects have come to an end, our OPD partners will continue to work with local government authorities to ensure children with disabilities get the support they need to access good quality education.

Watch the video to learn more about how we collaborate with OPDs in our projects.

Ensuring engagement is truly meaningful

Engaging OPDs to take up a central role throughout our project cycle doesn’t just happen by putting out a general invitation. We proactively contact OPDs in the areas where our projects are running to ensure we have a wide range of representation from across the disability community, and that we don’t leave out groups that are less visible or organised. We make sure that our meeting spaces and communications are accessible for everyone and we provide OPDs with resources and support in exchange for their expertise. We also ensure that our OPD and consortium partners learn from one another about how they can strengthen practices within their organisations to deliver more inclusive development. Meaningful engagement with OPDs moves far beyond tokenistic consultation.

Sightsavers India wins Zero Project award

Sightsavers India also won an award for its inclusive education programme that works across eight states in the country.

Read the news story


Johannes Trimmel is project director for disability inclusive development at Sightsavers.


Want to learn more about making your work inclusive?

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