Bridging the disability and development gap

12 March 2018

Disabled people are losing ground and not sharing in the increased prosperity of many developing countries.

Research across Kenya, Sierra Leone, Uganda and Zambia - by leading international disability charity Leonard Cheshire — has revealed wide gaps in vital opportunities and support. Increased access to healthcare, education, livelihoods and social protection for people with disabilities can be slower than for their non-disabled peers.

The study reveals that despite poverty reduction from economic growth, disabled people are being left behind.   

Initial findings from three years of research funded by ESRC/DFID, ‘Bridging the Gap:  Examining Disability and Development in Four African Countries’ will be presented to international delegates at a London conference on Monday 12/Tuesday 13 March.  

Key findings from a survey of nearly 5,000 households in four countries included:  

  • In Uganda, 84% of all households surveyed with disabled members did not receive social protection benefits
  • In Zambia, over 40% of surveyed adults with disabilities reported a lack of transport to access healthcare facilities, compared to 13% of non-disabled adults — a higher percentage of survey respondents with disabilities than in any other country  
  • In Kenya, 30% of surveyed disabled children in urban areas did not attend school compared to 5% of surveyed non-disabled children – a growing gap compared to rural areas in the same country, where only 13% of disabled children were not in school, compared to 4% of their non-disabled peers
  • Importantly, where development has yet to affect broader populations — in Sierra Leone for example — there is an opportunity to ensure that as development efforts increase, adults and children with disabilities are not left behind by designing inclusive policies and programmes from the outset.

Bridging the Gap builds on previous research by Leonard Cheshire, also funded by DFID, that explored how disability issues could be ‘mainstreamed’ across different sectors of development. 

The Bridging the Gap research explores the extent to which the development and disability gap is widening as socioeconomic development takes place, as well as what can be done to alleviate the problem. As further data emerge from the research, it will help create a fuller picture of how the development and disability gap can be bridged effectively.

The countries included in this study have ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) and have disability related laws and policies in place, but many barriers to effective implementation of legislation remain.

The study’s findings highlight the urgent need for full inclusion of people with disabilities in all development efforts and targeted programmes to build their capacity to participate fully and equally in their communities.  Better integration of mainstream and targeted programmes is required to ensure full inclusion over time - if people with disabilities around the world are to genuinely benefit from international development efforts.

Bridging the Gap is a collaborative study carried out in conjunction with five leading African Universities and four major national DPO’s (Disabled Persons Organisations) and initial findings will also be shared in further dissemination sessions in Kenya, Sierra Leone, Uganda and Zambia.  The findings will support evidence-based advocacy for policymaking and programme development.

Commenting on the study, Tiziana Oliva, international director at Leonard Cheshire Disability, said:

‘Bridging the Gap is an important study that we hope prompts further debate at the London conference and action across the countries involved.

‘We hope it has the potential to ultimately improve the lives of people with disabilities through crucial policy change.’

Anderson Gitonga, CEO, UDPK (United Disabled Persons of Kenya), said:

‘This evidence offers new insights for key stakeholders including persons with disabilities and duty bearers.

‘A current picture is vital for both our future advocacy work and as we build towards the 2019 national census.

‘It will go a long way to support the monitoring and inclusion of disability in SDGs (Sustainable Development Goals) and UNCRPD implementation.’

International Development Minister Lord Bates said:

‘For too long, people with disabilities in the world’s poorest countries have not been able to fulfil their potential due to barriers such as stigma or a lack of practical support.

‘This research lays bare the growing gap in living standards between those with and without disabilities in the developing world.

‘The UK is a global leader on disability inclusion, which is why we are bringing together governments from around the world, donors and NGOs to a global summit in London this year where we will agree firm commitments to ensure people with disabilities are not left behind.’

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Notes to editors

Bridging the Gap

Funded by UK government (through ESRC-DFID Joint Fund for Poverty Alleviation Research) the Joint Fund aims to enhance the quality and impact of social science research, with the goal of reducing poverty amongst the poorest countries and peoples of the world. Total amount provided (£1.9 million). 

The three-year research project was led by Leonard Cheshire Disability, with Professor Nora Groce, Leonard Cheshire Chair and Director of the Leonard Cheshire Disability and Inclusive Development Centre as the Principal Investigator (PI), working along with colleagues from the Leonard Cheshire Disability and Inclusive Development Centre at University College London (UCL). 

The research builds on previous research and was undertaken in collaboration with leading  academic institutions and national disabled people’s organisation partners in all four countries:  Kenya (School of Public Heath, University of Nairobi, African Centre for Technological Studies (ACTS) and United Disabled Persons of Kenya); Uganda (Department of Social Work and Social Administration, Makerere University and the National Union of Disabled Persons in Uganda); Zambia (Institute of Economic and Social Research, University of Zambia and the Zambia Agency for Persons with Disabilities); Sierra Leone (Institute of Public Administration and Management, University of Sierra Leone, Department of Sociology and Social Work, University of Sierra Leone and the Sierra Leone Union on Disability Issues), Stellenbosch University; as well as a Fordham University, the University of East Angelia and others (for full list see report).


This mixed-methods research used a range of interrelated components, including policy and secondary data analysis; a household survey of 4,839 households (13,597 adults and 10,756 children) and over 55 focus group discussions, 65 key informant interviews and 130 in-depth interviews across the four countries.