Disability and development: a leap forward

8 July 2014

Mahesh Chandrasekarby Mahesh Chandrasekar

Yellamma Gangadhar was born in India. At the age of seven she contracted polio and as a result, lost the use of her legs. When she was 10, her parents abandoned her at a bus station. She waited for them but they never came back. A kind shopkeeper helped her with food. Eventually she found the Bangalore Cheshire Home and was supported by Leonard Cheshire Disability through her education and training. She now has an excellent job and is happily married with a young daughter.

Yellamma’s story has a happy ending. But many disabled people are prevented from fulfilling their potential by the barriers that surround them. Of the estimated one billion disabled people worldwide, over 400 million live below the poverty line. It is a sad fact that disabled people continue to be less likely to attend school, receive an adequate education, find sustainable employment or have the right to decide where and with whom to live.

Last week, the UK government took a significant leap forward by committing to do more for the millions of disabled people living in poverty in their response to the International Development Select Committee’s inquiry into disability and development.

In April, when results of the inquiry were published, I wrote a post about the ‘open goal’ the committee handed to the Department for International Development (DFID) to lead the way in ensuring the inclusion of disability in development. I'm extremely encouraged by DFID’s response to the inquiry — they are certainly stepping up to the challenge!  

I'm particularly pleased by DFID’s commitment to publish a disability framework by November 2014, which will shape its policy, programme and international work. This framework will be developed with contributions from disabled people's organisations and non-government organisations both in the UK and at DFID's country offices. The framework is a clear indication that DFID is putting disabled people at the heart of its strategic decision making and programme management.

Although DFID has stopped short of committing to a full-scale disability strategy (one of the recommendations made by the inquiry), a framework is a pragmatic approach. The development of a strategy could be a lengthy process and could potentially mean immediate priorities and opportunities are missed. We will however be keeping a close eye on the framework as it develops and making sure it is robust. DFID has done some great work on gender issues following the introduction of their strategic vision for girls and women and I would like to see the same level of commitment and action on disability. 

Beyond 2015, when a new development framework will be put in place to replace the Millennium Development Goals, the UK government has committed to sustain its campaign for the inclusion of disability and make sure that no one is left behind. I am delighted that DFID will be partnering with the United Nations and Leonard Cheshire Disability on a joint technical conference to look at strengthening research data and indicators on disability in preparation for the post-2015 framework.

DFID has also committed to beefing up staff capacity and knowledge. This will include a new senior managerial disability champion within DFID by September 2014 and boosting the central policy team to two full time staff on disability. They will also equip their highly skilled 80-strong team of Social Development Advisers, who are central in ensuring that DFID programming reaches the most excluded, with expert knowledge and skills on disability.

The overwhelmingly positive response and commitments from DFID to this inquiry creates a new-found optimism. I hope it will address the inequalities experienced by disabled people, and contribute towards ending extreme poverty. We are keen to work closely with DFID to turn this excellent response into real action, improving the lives of disabled people worldwide.

Mahesh Chandrasekar is Leonard Cheshire Disability's international policy and campaigns manager.

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