Marking the two-year anniversary of the Global Disability Summit

July 2020
Lesline, who uses a wheelchair, with her classmates at her inclusive school in Cameroon.

In July 2018 the UK government co-hosted the first-ever global disability summit with the Government of Kenya and the International Disability Alliance, a landmark moment in the progress of disability rights. We look back at what has been achieved in the two years since.

There are 800 million people with disabilities in low and middle income countries, and many of them are routinely denied basic human rights. This is why supporting people with disabilities has been a vital part of Sightsavers’ work since the organisation was founded in 1950. Covid-19 has further highlighted the barriers facing  people with disabilities who have been disproportionality impacted by the pandemic. They have faced  discrimination and stigmatisation and a lack of accessible information and health care.

In recent years the UK government, through the Department for International development (DFID), has become a global leader in disability inclusion, ensuring that people with disabilities aren’t left behind and are able to participate and engage in international development and humanitarian projects.

Juliet Milgate, Sightsavers’ director of policy and advocacy said: “The first disability summit made some amazing and potentially life-changing commitments. It has been truly inspirational to work with DFID and all those countries and agencies involved so far on making many of these come to fruition. We look forward to continuing our work with the government to ensure that the UK remains a leader in disability inclusive development, and to ensure that no one is left behind.”

Two girls walking next to each other

Global Disability Summit

On 24 July 2018, the UK government co-hosted a global disability summit to celebrate the achievements and rights of people with disabilities.

More on the summit
A women with crutches sits next to computers in an office smiling.


24 July 2018: The UK government co-hosts the first Global Disability Summit with Kenya

At the DFID-organised summit over 170 commitments were made by governments, the private sector, UN agencies, and civil society organisations to prioritise disability in global development. Attendees had the opportunity to watch a Sightsavers video on our inclusive education work in Malawi.

July 2018: Disability Inclusive Development (DID) programme launches

Now part of the Inclusive Futures initiative, DID is a consortium project led by Sightsavers and funded by DFID. Running for six years, it is designed to contribute to the long-term improved well-being and inclusion of all people with disabilities in six low and middle income countries.

December 2018: DFID launches a new disability inclusive strategy

The plans, which Sightsavers had been calling for, set out how DFID would make its work and the programmes it funds more inclusive of people with disabilities in the world’s poorest countries.

December 2018: Sightsavers work is praised in parliament  

Sightsavers’ work was praised by a number of members of the House of Lords during a debate following the launch of DFID’s disability strategy. Lord Shinkwin thanked Sightsavers for its role in supporting the Summit and Baroness Jenkin of Kennington cited Sightsavers’ research.

March 2019: Sightsavers launches its Equal World campaign

Following five years of successful campaigning for the UK to prioritise disability in international development, Equal World was launched. This global campaign calls for the UN and its member states to ensure the rights of all people with disabilities are upheld.

June 2019: United Nations launches new disability strategy

The UN’s first disability inclusion strategy launched in New York at the annual Conference of States Parties to the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

July 2019: UK aid funded Inclusion Works launches

The groundbreaking Inclusion Works programme, funded by UK aid and led in consortium by Sightsavers, pilots new ways to create job opportunities for more than 2,000 people with disabilities in Nigeria, Kenya, Uganda and Bangladesh. Inclusion Works has now been brought together with DID under the Inclusive Futures initiative.

July 2019:  Inclusion Works and DID programmes are brought together under the Inclusive Futures initiative

Unprecedented in scope and scale, Inclusive Futures brings together experts from 16 global organisations. The initiative pools collective expertise and works with disabled people’s organisations to create innovative solutions to remove key barriers that prevent people with disabilities from accessing education, health care and work.

September 2019: UK aid-funded ASCEND programme launches

ASCEND, managed by four of DFID’s established partners including Sightsavers, is our largest multiple neglected tropical disease programme to date. Funded by UK aid, it aims to deliver more than 400 million treatments in 13 countries to treat neglected tropical diseases and is designed in partnership with disabled people’s organisations.

January 2020: Sightsavers receives Innovative Practice prize in Zero Project Awards

Sightsavers received an Innovative Practice Award from the Zero Project for an early childhood development and education project in Malawi. The Zero Project Awards recognise innovative practices and projects supporting people with disabilities around the world. A film capturing the work of the project can be seen here.

January 2020: Inclusive Futures films shown at GLAD event

A Sightsavers film featuring first-hand account of job seekers in Kenya and Nigeria was shown at a conference hosted by the Global Action on Disability (GLAD) Network. Job seekers talk about their experiences of seeking employment as a person with a disability, and some of the barriers they’ve faced in establishing their careers.

February 2020: Sightsavers awarded Disability Confident Leader status

Sightsavers received a Disability Confident Employer Level 3 accreditation, the highest level an organisation can achieve. The scheme, run by the UK government, aims to make workplaces more inclusive.

June 2020: 150 journalists undergo UK aid-funded training on disability representation

As part of Inclusive Futures Sightsavers’ partner BBC Media Action trained journalists in Bangladesh to improve the ways people with disabilities are portrayed in the media.

July 2020: Inclusive Futures website launches

Inclusive Futures launched an internet platform to showcase the achievements of the two programmes. It will be a space to share learning and knowledge with other organisations promoting the rights of people with disabilities.

July 2020:  Sightsavers adapts its UK aid funded work to COVID-19 response

Two major UK aid-funded programmes, both led by Sightsavers, have been adapted to tackle the crisis caused by COVID-19. The Ascend West and Central Africa NTD programme is using pre-existing tech platforms to help support awareness of health care as well as spread messaging on prevention behaviours such as hand hygiene, physical distancing and wearing masks. To address the fact that people with disabilities are being disproportionately impacted by COVID-19, Sightsavers’ UK aid-funded programmes under the Inclusive Futures initiative are adapting to ensure a more inclusive response to the pandemic.

So much has already been achieved since the first global disability summit, but much more still needs to be done. The pandemic is a global crisis which needs a coordinated and inclusive global response.  Let’s turn promises into action as we build back better from COVID-19 and make sure to leave no one behind in the recovery.

Read all our latest news stories

News from Sightsavers
A community drug distributor hands an elderly man medication to treat trachoma.

WHO report reveals millions no longer at risk from trachoma

The number of people at risk from trachoma has fallen by more than 12 million in a single year, according to a new report by the World Health Organization.

July 2024
Health worker Adesugba checks some medication in the clinic. She's surrounded by charts on the walls and paperwork on the tables.

Sightsavers and RSTMH extend research partnership

The organisations will publish two further collections of research papers in the journal International Health, focusing on river blindness and general research work.

May 2024
Arthur in the classroom, smiling while wearing his new glasses.

Sightsavers joins WHO initiative to improve access to spectacles

SPECS 2030 aims to tackle the world’s biggest cause of visual impairment by improving global access to eye care.

May 2024

Learn about our work to save sight