Representatives of organisations of persons with disabilities met in Nairobi to learn about advocacy and to build relationships, at a session organised by Sightsavers
Representatives of organisations of persons with disabilities met in Nairobi to learn about advocacy and to build relationships, at a session organised by Sightsavers. PATRICK MEINHARDT / SIGHTSAVERS

4 ways to adopt disability inclusion in development

The global development community has made a commitment to help everybody.

Yet people with disabilities are routinely excluded from development efforts and often face more barriers than other marginalised groups at work, in education and in healthcare.

Innovation, the act of introducing something new and sometimes bold to something established, can change this. This is why Inclusive Futures, a consortium of disability and development specialists from 16 organisations, has been testing innovative approaches to disability inclusive development, in line with the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. And we have learnings from seven countries ready to share.

“Leaving no one behind” cannot just be a slogan. Health, education, work and growth opportunities need to work for everyone. There is no area of life where an approach that helps and supports people to be fully included would be wrong; inclusion benefits us all. So, here’s four ways the development community can make what they do work for everyone:

Embed disability inclusion in programmes…

Innovation is not always the exciting, new thing – it can also be making straightforward adaptations to well-known processes and attitudes. This isn’t just about being open for people with disabilities to participate but making sure that concrete actions are taken to include them systematically.

For example, we have adapted an already successful mainstream youth training programme in Bangladesh to ensure that young people with disabilities are equally benefitting from the opportunities the programme offers. For example, training staff on disability inclusion and working with organisations of persons with disabilities (OPDs) to make tools more accessible.

We have also found that in many sectors there is a will to be more inclusive, but people need support to know how to do it and where to start. We’re working with training suppliers, supporting them to adapt their soft skills training and IT academies to be inclusive of people with disabilities. And in business, we’re working to make companies inclusive of people with disabilities, both in their offices and their supply chains.

…but also aim for systematic change

Systems are often rigid with individuals forced to adapt to them. Our work focuses on how we change the systems to make them inclusive of people with disabilities from the start.

Our education projects have shown us who we need to work with to change school systems to make them inclusive. In Tanzania, we are working with government, disability and education actors to create a model of quality inclusive, pre-primary and primary education that is tested, costed and collectively supported. In Nigeria, we’re making primary education inclusive by developing innovative and scalable strategies for schools and teacher training.

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This may not immediately have huge impacts, but instead lay the groundwork for systemic change that can benefit many more people in the future.

Engage people with disabilities from the start

This sounds obvious but I would consider it an innovation as it is so regularly not being done in development work. We often see OPDs consulted on projects in superficial ways that can be ticked off for reports.

It’s more than just consultation: OPDs and people with disabilities are central to projects in the planning, design, and delivery stages. In our response to Covid-19 in Bangladesh, OPD representatives led a lot of the implementation. This built relationships with the local authorities who didn’t see a programme created for people with disabilities, but one driven by them. That relationship with local authorities is the foundation for OPDs to be involved in decision making in the future.

Be bold in trying new ideas and partnerships

It is not only governments and donors who should be shaping development work. The private sector can have a huge impact on how societies work and what opportunities exist. Partnerships with this sector can generate new approaches to tackling barriers to inclusion.

For example, in Bangladesh and Kenya, we have teamed up with US-based technology experts Benetech to develop mobile technology. This will be used by people with intellectual disabilities to share their stories and advocate to the government for better inclusion of people with disabilities. The Data for Inclusion Platform aims to fill the information gap around how the implementation of disability laws are actually reflected in the reality of disabled people’s lives.

In this way, people are not passive recipients of their rights, but can be active in providing information to governments about what more needs to be done or what is working.

Inclusive Futures is not only delivering tangible outcomes to improve the lives of people with disabilities, but also generating an evidence base on ‘what works’ to deliver disability inclusive development. Please feel free to get in touch with us to find out more.