Pandemic won’t knock disability inclusion off course

Sakunthala Mapa, Head of Consortium for the i2i programme

Our Innovation to Inclusion (i2i) programme embodies the UK Government’s global leadership in disability inclusion.

Two years on from the Global Disability Summit (GDS), i2i is making firm strides on the GDS commitment to economic empowerment for people with disabilities. The impact of coronavirus makes this even more critical.

Two women wearing face masks talking

The coronavirus pandemic reminds us of the disproportionate effect a crisis can have on certain groups. They can become even more marginalised and have their rights put more at risk at such times.

To understand how people with disabilities are experiencing coronavirus, access to high quality disaggregated data is vital. This also helps to plan and budget for inclusive responses.

Why we need high-quality data

Last week, we launched the results of a survey conducted with the European Disability Forum (EDF). It sheds light on the socio-economic impact of coronavirus on people with disabilities and measures to address this.

The survey was conceived and conducted by i2i’s partner disabled persons’ organisations. It captured vital data and lived experiences.

In Bangladesh, 80% of those surveyed have not been able to work. More than 85% felt insecurity in their current job. Bangladeshi respondent Jannatul told us: "I am feeling insecure in my current job. I don’t know how I will afford my baby’s food and my mother’s medicine."

Many reported disruptions to vital support they needed to live safely and independently. Karimi from Kenya said: "People with disabilities have been left out and our needs not prioritised in the COVID-19 response."

In terms of the experience of disability discrimination, 39% in Kenya and 44% in Bangladesh had experienced disability discrimination. Esther from Kenya was "dismissed [from her job] on the basis that we shall spread the virus faster than those without disabilities".

The impact of the Global Disability Summit

In 2018, the UK government hosted its first-ever Global Disability Summit. This was in partnership with the International Disability Alliance and the Government of Kenya. It has been vital in drawing global attention to disability inclusion.

GDS and the Charter for Change were a catalyst for the launch of disability inclusion programmes. i2i was among the first cabs off the rank under the new UK Aid Connect funding mechanism. UK Aid Connect promotes innovative solutions to development challenges. They deliver real change to people’s lives.

In many ways, i2i's aims are inseparable from the principles of the summit. Our coronavirus survey again shows we have an unwavering commitment to pledges made in the Charter for Change. This includes:

  • Gather and use better data and evidence to understand and address the challenges faced by persons with disabilities.

  • Open up routes to economic empowerment. Achieved through more and better jobs, social protection, skills training and accessible workplaces. This allows people with disabilities can enjoy decent work and achieve financial independence.

The impact of coronavirus

We see huge value in the Disability Data Portal – another joint initiative of ours and UK Aid emerging from the GDS. The portal provides important information for policymakers and programme practitioners. It focuses on data relating to four thematic areas, including economic empowerment.

The coronavirus pandemic has certainly threatened to set back progress. But the bonds forged in London in 2018 between ourselves, UK Aid and our other partners are strong.

Our leadership on disability inclusion must stay focused on this crisis. The momentum created by the Charter for Change through programmes like i2i must be maintained. Our commitments to high-quality data and economic empowerment are even more crucial at this time of global uncertainty.