A panel at GDS18 in London, hosted in collaboration with the government of Kenya.
A panel at GDS18 in London, hosted in collaboration with the government of Kenya. Michael Hughes / DFID - Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0)

Global Disability Summit 2022: what is it all about?

I cast my mind back to 2018 – when the UK government, alongside the Kenyan government and the International Disability Alliance (IDA), co-hosted the first Global Disability Summit (GDS) in London.

The GDS shone a spotlight that had not been there before on disability, with the event not only generating huge interest in the issue, but, more importantly, commitments for change. GDS18 brought together 171 national governments, multilateral agencies, donors, foundations, private sector and civil society organisations who together made 968 individual commitments – each of which were intended to strengthen and transform disability inclusion.

More than 300 governments and organisations signed the GDS18 Charter for Change, encouraging the focused implementation of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD).

The UK demonstrated great leadership in this Summit – working hard to create an incredible GDS – a historical moment for disability inclusion and the rights of persons with disabilities. This generated an unprecedented level of focus on disability-inclusive development among world leaders, government officials, civil society, the private sector, the donor community, and organisations of persons with disabilities – but also resulted in organisations lobbying governments and other key stakeholders, including the UN, to make ground breaking commitments to disability inclusion. These commitments include:

  • 9 national governments announced their commitment to pass or formulate new or revised laws for disability rights
  • 18 national governments, donors and multilaterals have committed to new systematic policies, action plans or strategies for disability inclusion
  • UN Women will launch a corporate strategy for the empowerment of women and girls with disabilities, and committed that by 2021, 80% of their country programmes will include a focus on women and girls with disabilities
  • Project AT2030 launched with the aim of reaching over 9 million people, testing new approaches and backing ‘what works’ to get Assistive Technology to those who need it most

Fast forward four years and a lot has happened. Most notably a global pandemic that rocked the world as we all knew it. Covid has affected us all, but those with a disability have been affected like no other group.

Here in the UK for example, the Office for National Statistics reported that people with a disability have been more likely to die as a result of Covid-19 – shockingly between January and November 2020, people with disabilities accounted for six out of every ten deaths (59.5%) involving Covid-19. We can extrapolate that this is likely to be the same, or worse, in the Global South.

Research from Action on Disability and Development (ADD), a DDG member, highlighted that persons with disabilities reported being disproportionately excluded from Covid-19 support; and, for those who received relief, it has far from met their needs. The economic impact of the pandemic is acute for persons with disabilities.

So, while we left GDS18 with huge optimism and hope, given impact of Covid, this has quickly turned to grave concern…

Tomorrow the second Global Disability Summit (GDS2022) will be held, co-hosted by the governments of Norway and Ghana and IDA. Here are our three asks:

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1. It is time to move from commitments to action. Over the last three months we have seen governments and civil society actors renewing past commitments and making additional ones. For example, the UK plans to launch a refresh of its Disability Inclusion Strategy. This is great and we welcome this. But we need to ensure all of this turns into action – and not one-time action, but prolonged action, embedded in the very fabric of our practices and approaches.

2. Persons with disabilities need to be at the centre – not only of the GDS but of any development and/or humanitarian work going forward. Without their lived experience informing and guiding, change will be ineffective, and persons with disability (15% of the world’s population) will continue to be left behind.

3. Youth and women with disabilities have a key role to play. We must ensure we support them to not only engage in the disability movement but also provide opportunities for them to take up leadership roles. GDS22 will host a Youth Summit for the first time. This is an exciting addition to the portfolio of events and will ensure a platform for new voices, particularly young people who to date have been very much left out of the conversation. The aspirations and achievements of youth will shape the future.

Yet too many still grapple with poverty, inequality and human rights violations and this keeps them from reaching their personal and collective potential. This is true of youth with disabilities. Youth with disabilities have an important role to play in the future of the disability movement as well as the development of the society. Let’s all ensure to listen to what they have to say.

Join the Bond Disability and Development Group for GDS22

GDS22 will take place virtually. For more information on the event go to: www.globaldisabilitysummit.org The main event is tomorrow (with events running all this week) – so for anyone interested in achieving the SGDs and contributing to an equitable world – don’t miss out on this important event.


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