Are Development Programs Achieving Disability Inclusion? If Not, What Next?
We cannot put all the world’s children into school, or eradicate global poverty and hunger, or stop the spread of HIV/AIDS, until and unless mainstream international development programs proactively include people with disabilities. The good news is that a slowly growing number of international agencies and organizations have written policies declaring their support for disability inclusion, otherwise known as disability mainstreaming. These include, as a few examples, the US Agency of International Development (USAID); the World Bank; The Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation (NORAD); and the UK Department for International Development (DFID).
But, how well do these nice-sounding policies translate into practice? Do these programs actually reach poor people with disabilities in developing countries, or improve the quality of their lives, any better than before they wrote these policies? One DisabilityKar publication explores this question: Has Disability Been Mainstreamed into Development Cooperation? (Word format, 921 Kb)
One of the conclusions of this report is that the question is harder to answer than you might think: even the definition of what makes a “policy” a “policy” is apparently not always as obvious as it might seem. Then there are even trickier concepts to define, such as “inclusion,” “mainstreaming,” and “disability.” But ultimately the answer is mostly disappointing. Apart from some limited progress, many policies fail to go beyond pretty words on a page into pragmatic action in the field. If they are implemented, it is more or less haphazardly.
This conclusion in itself will probably not be especially new to close observers of the development field. What makes this study interesting, however, is that it is one of the few attempts to formally document what it terms a “disconnect between promise and results.” More importantly, it makes an attempt to answer why this disconnect happens, and what committed organizations can do to ensure that disability-friendly policies are carried out in practice. The study was published in July 2005, so some information has changed since then. But many of the underlying challenges are likely still similar today. Organizations and agencies that are serious about disability inclusion may wish to review this study with their own policies and practices in mind and consider ways they can help close the gap.
Has Disability Been Mainstreamed into Development Cooperation? (Word format, 921 Kb) analyzes policies and practice at USAID, the World Bank, NORAD, and DFID. The most common reason why disability inclusion policies fail include: lack of institutional support; failure to communicate policies; failure to break down traditional attitudes toward disability; failure to provide practical guidance in how to implement the policies; and inadequate resources.
Download the full 107-page report in Word format (921 Kb) at:
People interested in the DisabilityKar report may also be interested in reading a study of US-based organizations with an international focus on the extent to which they proactively include the concerns of women and girls with disabilities in their programs. This study, entitled Gender And Disability: A Survey of InterAction Member Agencies: Findings And Recommendations on Inclusion of Women and Men with Disabilities in International Development Programs (PDF format, 286 Kb), explores both policies and practice in dozens of relief and international development agencies and organizations. It also includes recommendations for how mainstream organizations can move forward in promoting genuine disability inclusion. Published by Mobility International USA, it is a few years older than DisabilityKar’s study, but covers more organizations and includes a gender focus as well as a disability focus. It can be downloaded in PDF format (286 Kb) at:
I discovered DisabilityKar’s study by exploring Handicap International’s new, on-line, free CD on Disability Rights and Policies. I encourage readers to explore the on-line CD on their own to find more publications and resources of interest. I first learned of MIUSA’s publication when I took my first course in international development and disability a few years ago at Gallaudet University.
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