Inclusion matters: time to be proactively inclusive about disability

Today is the International Day of Persons with Disabilities which aims to promote awareness and action around disability inclusion. This year the theme is ‘Inclusion matters’ and a recent GSDRC guide written for development and humanitarian professionals, highlights just how much inclusion matters. Or rather, how much lack of inclusion matters.

Disability is not rare. It is part of human diversity and does not necessary imply limited wellbeing and poverty. An estimated one billion people or around 15 per cent of the world have some form of disability, yet they are often overlooked. Many of them live good lives, have families, earn a living, and are successful. However, the evidence shows that in low and middle-income countries, people with disabilities are poorer than their nondisabled peers when it comes to access to education, healthcare, employment, income, social support, justice, and political and civic involvement.

Both children and adults with disabilities are also at a higher risk of physical and sexual violence, whilst conflicts and disasters often have a disproportionate impact on people with disabilities and humanitarian response is often inaccessible.

The exclusion of people with disabilities has significant economic as well as social costs, caused by losses in productivity and human potential. When people with disabilities are not included in development efforts, they can fall increasingly behind their non-disabled peers.

This situation need not be the case: a more inclusive society is possible.

A more inclusive and accessible society for all

There is much more evidence available about the impact of the exclusion of people with disabilities, than the impact of their inclusion, as exclusion is still so common. However, some evidence and estimates indicate that disability inclusion could lead to increased earnings and tax revenues; improved individual and family well-being; and a more inclusive and accessible society for all.

Barriers creating inequality and preventing inclusion of people with disabilities

The evidence makes it clear that the inequalities experienced by people with disabilities are a result of barriers, rather than any inherent limitations on their part.
Barriers to disability inclusion include:

  • Attitudinal barriers, including ignorance, stigma, and discrimination
  • Environmental barriers, including inaccessible environments and communication systems
  • Institutional barriers, including law/policies/practices which discriminate against people with disabilities
  • Inaccurate concerns over cost/difficulty of disability inclusion.

Attitudinal barriers are one of the greatest obstacles to achieving equality of opportunity and social integration. The lack of rigorous and comparable data, combined with lack of evidence on programmes that work, often impedes understanding and action on disability inclusion.

Addressing barriers and including people with disabilities in development and humanitarian work

Breaking down barriers and realising the full participation of people with disabilities is the responsibility of all: government, community, disabled people and their organisations, development and humanitarian agencies as well as disability-specific organisations or service providers.

The guide provides advice to development and humanitarian agencies on how to do this.

Disability inclusive development/humanitarian response approaches need not be costly or complicated. In some areas of development and humanitarian response, people are addressing these barriers and creating more inclusive programming through a variety of measures.

Raising awareness and changing attitudes and behaviours is key for seeing positive change towards inclusion.

World Vision, for example, found that disability awareness training led to greater inclusion and participation of people with disabilities in the communities who received the training in Armenia, Ethiopia, India, Senegal and Sierra Leone. Mainstreaming involves including people with disabilities in all aspects of development and humanitarian efforts, for example by ensuring new schools and other facilities are built to be fully accessible or ensuring all staff receive disability-awareness training. The twin-track approach, which combines mainstreaming in general programmes with disability specific projects needed to achieve the full inclusion and participation of people with disabilities, has been adopted by many development and humanitarian agencies, including CBM and UNHCR, for example.

The UN and others, including UK Department for International Development (DFID), recommend using the Washington Group Questions to gather disability data consistently across the world. Best practices for disability inclusion gathered from a range of development organisations have been found to be rights-based and participatory, actively and meaningfully involving people with disability in all matters concerning them in the process of forming policies and programmes.

However, systematic disability inclusion in all aspects of all development programmes is still rare

This needs to, and is, changing. The Sustainable Development Goals pledge to leave no one behind and directly mentions people with disabilities under five of the goals. Donors, such as DFID (who’ve just published their 2015 Disability Framework), have renewed their focus on disability inclusion in their work. Non-specialist organisations are mainstreaming disability in their work. 160 countries have ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

Each of us can take steps that ensure equality and lead to greater progress on inclusiveness, for example by inviting people with disabilities to participate in our activities and making sure activities are organised in accessible venues.

Inclusion matters: it enables people with disabilities to participate on an equal basis with others and fulfil their potential; as well as creating an inclusive and accessible society for all.

By Brigitte Rohwerder – Research Officer at IDS and GSDRC

Originally posted on the IDS blog site on 3 December 2015. 


Brigitte Rohwerder – @B_Rohwerder

IDS – 



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