“There are no disabled people in this community – we asked.”
“My organisation works with everyone, so we don’t need to focus on disability.”
“We’d like to do something on disability, but there’s just no extra money for it.”
It is estimated that 10% of the world’s population has a disability, or about 650 million people. But amongst the poorest people, this may be as high as 20%. This is because disability is both a cause and a consequence of poverty. Issues such as malnutrition, limited access to basic health care, or the need to undertake hazardous work, mean that poor people are more likely to be born with or acquire a disability. But people with disabilities are also more likely to be poor – for example due to the high costs of medication and treatment, or limited employment options due to poor education or discrimination.
Disability is present in every community and is part of the normal range of human experience. A rights-based approach to development emphasises the fact that development activities must aim to fulfil people’s rights to basic things such as clean water, health care and education. People with disabilities have the same rights as everyone else, but face additional vulnerability which means their rights are less likely to be fulfilled. So ensuring that development reaches people with disabilities is not an optional extra: it needs to be part of every program. It is also a practical necessity in achieving targets like the Millennium Development Goals. For example, about 40 million of the 115 million children not in primary school have disabilities, making Goal 2, Universal Primary Education, impossible to achieve without targeting children with disabilities.
Ideally, ‘inclusive development’ should be no different to ‘good development’. So why focus on disability? The reason is that people with disabilities have too often been left out of mainstream development activities. Infrastructure like schools, health centres or water points might be physically inaccessible; materials might not be provided in simple language for those with intellectual impairments; there might be no transport available to get to community planning meetings; sign interpreters might not be made available for those with hearing impairments; or stigma and discrimination might mean people with disabilities are excluded from activities or not recognised as stakeholders. Therefore agencies need to pay special attention to disability inclusion, to ensure that people with disabilities are equally involved in and benefit equally from development programs and activities.
Disability inclusion is not difficult. Essentially it’s about ensuring that principles of good development, such as inclusion, equity and access, are applied to interactions with people with disabilities. Simple inclusion measures might be inviting the local Disabled People’s Organisation to a community consultation; making sure that a school is constructed with ramps and wide doorways for wheelchairs; or encouraging recruitment of people with disabilities as employees, volunteers or community representatives.
To find out more about disability inclusive development, try the following starting-points.
CBM-Nossal Institute Partnership for Disability Inclusive Development
The CBM-Nossal Partnership runs regular training courses, including an upcoming course on Disability Inclusion within Development Programs (7-8 June 2011 in Melbourne) a Masters-level subject Disability in Developing Countries each year in September.
Australian Disability and Development Consortium
Australian Development Gateway