Golden opportunity to put disability at the heart of international development

7 February 2014

Mahesh Chandrasekarby Mahesh Chandrasekar

As the International Development Select Committee inquiry into disability and development draws to a close, I firmly believe this golden opportunity must be grasped now.

Given that the mission of DFID is poverty eradication, our main message to the inquiry is simple. The UK government should absolutely be leading the way in ensuring that disabled people are no longer left behind in international development. We currently have a unique opportunity to make this happen. The UN is in the process of agreeing a new set of Sustainable Development Goals that will replace the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), which expire in 2015. Although over 400 million people with disabilities live below the poverty line, the MDGs made no mention of disability. We need to make sure that disability is included as a cross-cutting issue across all goals and targets this time round.

This week, Amina Mohamed, the UN Secretary-General’s Special Adviser on Post-2015 Development Planning, gave evidence to the committee. We were extremely pleased to hear her say that disabled people are among the most marginalised and neglected, and should be included in the targets and indicators of the new Sustainable Development Goals.

The focus of the inquiry is the relevance and effectiveness of DFID’s current approach to disability, and the UK’s role in ensuring that disability is included in development. 

Lynne Featherstone, the UK Parliamentary under Secretary of State for International Development, is also a strong advocate for including disability in development. In her evidence to the committee she was clear that you can’t address poverty without addressing disability.

However, in order for people with disabilities to have equal access, DFID needs to articulate and adopt a systemic approach for disability equity and inclusion in the same way that gender has been addressed. This means embedding disability in its strategy and country diagnostic tools and allocating resources for the participation of people with disabilities and participation in all their programmes.

In line with the ‘twin-track’ approach proposed by DFID, we need to make sure that all mainstream development programmes, regardless of their focus, are inclusive of disabled people. We also need specific disability programmes that find innovative ways to lift disabled people out of poverty. As Professor Nora Groce from our Inclusive Development Centre suggested to the inquiry, DFID should focus its efforts to improve disability inclusion in areas where they are already strong.

But strategies and plans are never enough on their own. We need to see concrete, time-bound action and investment of resources to remove barriers to the physical environment and transportation, barriers to employment, education, and health services, and barriers to information and assistive devices. 

One issue that came up several times during the inquiry was the additional cost of including disabled people in development programmes. This is a common concern. However, designing programmes that are inclusive is part of good programme design and any costs can be minimised if considered from the outset.

Furthermore, the cost of exclusion to societies and economies far outweighs the cost of inclusion. If a child drops out of school because the education systems fails to accommodate their needs then the likelihood that they will make a productive contribution to the community is significantly reduced. In a 2009 ILO study, the total annual cost of avoidable unemployment among disabled people to national economies was estimated to be between 1% and 7% of GDP. If disability is included in development, it’s not just disabled people who benefit. Making sure that disabled people fulfil their potential has a positive impact for everyone in society.

I’m looking forward to seeing the final report from the inquiry, which will be published in April. The chair of the committee, Malcolm Bruce, asked whether it was time that DFID rolls up its sleeves and does more on disability. We think this applies to everyone  in development. It is a matter of dignity for hundreds of millions people.

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


Definitely agree with this analysis - well summed up in the last paragraph

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