An open goal for DFID?

11 April 2014

Mahesh Chandrasekar

by Mahesh Chandrasekar

Back in January, I gave evidence to the International Development Select Committee’s inquiry on Disability and Development. Afterwords I wrote that the Department for International Development (DFID) had a ‘golden opportunity to put disability at the heart of international development’.

The committee has now published its report from the inquiry and I'm extremely pleased to see that they have taken on board many of the recommendations made by Leonard Cheshire Disability and other disability organisations. The committee has delivered a perfect pass – this is now an open goal for DFID to define a concrete strategy and lead the way in ensuring the inclusion of disability in development.

The World Health Organisation estimates that there are approximately 1 billion disabled people globally, 80% of whom live in developing countries. Although there is plenty of evidence that disabled people are disproportionately represented among those living in extreme poverty, for far too long disabled people have remained invisible and been left behind in projects to overcome poverty. Drawing on the huge amount of evidence that the committee has gathered during this inquiry, the report clearly highlights the extent and urgency of the challenge and urges DFID to scale up its existing commitment to disabled people.

Under the coalition government, DFID has placed an emphasis on partnerships between governments, businesses and civil society in ending absolute poverty. I was particularly interested to see the report highlighting the exciting possibilities that DFID’s engagement with the private sector creates for its work on disability. The committee has come up with practical steps such as tracking the number of disabled people being employed by private sector employees or accessing their services as minimum starting points.

Our Access to Livelihoods project in South and East Asia, supported by Accenture, has already been doing some great work with the private sector. Through the project we encourage employers to employ disabled people and make their workplaces more accessible.

Over 100 employers, including Accenture, Vodafone, Coca Cola, Aegis and Intercontinental Hotels, have embraced the initiative and included disabled people within their workforce. A top hotel chain in India is now planning to open a hotel in Delhi with a target of reserving 80% of jobs for disabled people. All of their employees receive sign language training and their hotels are fully accessible.

This shows how powerful engagement between civil society and the private sector can be, and I was pleased to see the report identify Leonard Cheshire Disability's livelihoods programme as a scalable model to increase the economic participation of people with disabilities around the world.

Promoting development for disabled people through engagement with the private sector is just one of many welcome recommendations made in the report. I am looking forward to DFID’s response. The department is already doing some great work on disability. DFID has spearheaded the highly influential ‘twin track approach’ to disability programming – ensuring that all mainstream programmes are inclusive of disabled people, while at the same time championing specific disability programmes.

The time has now come for DFID to introduce a comprehensive disability strategy with clear objectives and timetables that will build on the good work they have already begun.

I have no doubt that DFID will rise to the challenge.

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

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