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Sightsavers study highlights gaps in research into disability discrimination

June 2021

A Sightsavers study into disability-related stigma and discrimination has shown that there are significant gaps in research into the subject.

The study looked at interventions that have been used to tackle stigma, and identified gaps in the evidence base. Researchers are now calling for more effort to be put into filling these gaps.

The systematic literature review identified 82 studies reporting disability-related stigma and discrimination from sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia. It then assessed them for methodological quality – a measure of whether the studies were likely to provide reliable results.

The review found that the studies were unevenly spread across different countries and types of impairment. The majority of studies that were assessed for quality were also deemed to be of low methodological quality.

Emma Jolley, global technical lead for health and disability research at Sightsavers, said: “Our review notes the lack of good quality evidence about interventions and their impact on the lives of people with disabilities, particularly those with physical and sensory impairments, and those living in sub-Saharan Africa. This means that when it comes to addressing stigma and discrimination, we still don’t have the tools we need.”

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Sightsavers’ research

Sightsavers supports research in eye health, neglected tropical diseases, education and social inclusion. High-quality research is critical to help us deliver our strategy and programmes successfully.

About our research
An illustration showing a man with a clipboard, talking to a group of three people. The group includes a man, a woman and a little boy.
Sightsavers looked at the interventions used to tackle stigma and discrimination, and found significant gaps in the evidence.

As well as exploring the forms stigma can take, the review identified factors that can drive it, and the personal characteristics that can work together to create different outcomes for people. Researchers looked at the interventions that have been used to tackle stigma and discrimination, and the evidence about how effective they were. They also examined the tools that have been used to measure change.

The findings have led to a number of recommendations for organisations planning research, and for programmes that aim to reduce disability stigma and discrimination. These include:

  • Develop and use robust and common frameworks to understand and explore stigma and discrimination.
  • Invest in developing and using standardised tools and appropriate methods for measuring stigma, and conducting good quality research on interventions to address stigma in different settings.
  • Conduct research at the outset of planning interventions to understand the context-specific drivers and manifestations of stigma. Organisations should measure experienced and enacted stigma at the start of projects and at various points along the way, to identify changes over time.
  • Involve people with disabilities and their representative organisations in all stages of design and implementation of interventions and research. This is not only the right thing to do, but is also often associated with better results.

You can read the full review, as well as a summary of the research findings, on our Research Centre.

Emma Jolley added: “This is a good example of Sightsavers’ evidence-led approach. As an organisation, we rely on a solid understanding of the evidence base to inform how we work.

“This review tells us that we need to focus on generating and sharing robust evidence in a transparent way. It also highlights the need for researchers and implementing organisations to develop common methodologies, and for funding agencies to support the work to tackle disability-related stigma and discrimination.”

“This review tells us we need to focus on generating and sharing robust evidence in a transparent way”

An illustration showing a group of people sitting at a table, talking together. One person in the group is a wheelchair user.
One of the recommendations of the review was to involve people with disabilities at all stages when designing programmes and research.

A positive impact on our programmes

The review is already having a positive impact on Sightsavers’ development work, particularly in cases where the organisation is working together with communities to overcome stigma.

One of the programmes where these learnings are being used is Ghana Somubi Dwumadie. This programme’s goal is to ensure that people with disabilities in Ghana, including people with mental health conditions, are able to enjoy improved wellbeing, social and economic outcomes, and rights.

Following the recommendations of the systematic review, Sightsavers has used a robust framework and has been involving people with disabilities and their representative organisations in Ghana to understand and develop activities to reduce stigma.

So far this has led to a number of suggestions including holding town hall meetings, creating radio programmes, and providing training for healthcare staff and people in the media industry to improve language and the culture of support for people with disabilities.

Cathy Stephen, global technical lead for social behaviour change at Sightsavers, sid: “It’s been fantastic to see how the systematic review is helping to guide our work in Ghana and elsewhere. The review is shaping up to be a valuable tool, both for us and for other organisations who are working to combat the damaging effects of stigma and discrimination.”

The review was funded by Irish Aid, the Government of Ireland’s official international development aid programme.

About Ghana Somubi Dwumadie

The four-year Ghana Somubi Dwumadie (Ghana Participation Programme) is a disability programme with a specific focus on mental health. It is run by a consortium led by Options, alongside Basic Needs-Ghana, Kings College London, Sightsavers and Tropical Health.
Visit the Options website

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