Including Everybody: Website on Disability and MDGs Launched
The Millennium Development Goals (MDGs)
End poverty and hunger. Put all children in school. Empower women. Stop children from dying. Keep pregnant and birthing mothers healthy. Fight AIDS, malaria, and other disease. Create a sustainable environment. And promote global cooperation. These are the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs)–an important set of goals agreed upon by key leaders and heads of state from around the world in September 2000. No, they don’t mention people with disabilities at all–and I will come back to this point in a few paragraphs. Or you can ignore me and go straight to the new website on disability and the MDGs. But in theory, the MDGs are meant to help everyone.
Each goal has a set of specific targets to be achieved, most with the deadline set for 2015. For example, the poverty goal includes a target to cut the number of people living on less than $1 a day in half by 2015. And the goal on child mortality includes a target to cut the child mortality rate by two-thirds among children below age 5. Many country governments, multi-lateral development banks, international development organizations, and donors have invested billions of dollars into projects meant to help more countries and regions meet the Millennium Development Goals.
What has the results been? Mixed. Some of the goals, such as the targets for reducing poverty and hunger, or in putting all children in primary school, have been met–and exceeded in many countries particularly in eastern Asia. Progress in southern Asia has helped also. But many countries in sub-Saharan Africa lag far behind in meeting many of the MDGs.
You can read more about the overall progress–or lack of it–at http://www.undp.org/mdg/basics_ontrack.shtml. Or if you only want to look up the progress in the country where you live, work, or care about the most, go to http://www.undp.org/mdg/tracking_countryreports2.shtml.
People with Disabilities and the MDGs
But what about people with disabilities? Unfortunately, they have been so invisible that most programs and governments don’t even count them. That means it’s hard to find reliable numbers that measure whether people with disabilities are included–or left behind–in the haphazard progress that has been made toward the MDGs. But, we can make some educated guesses.
For example, what limited numbers do exist estimate that possibly as many as 98% of children with disabilities in some developing countries never go to school. Personally, I doubt this number is universally true. For one thing, there is a great deal of variation from country to country in how proactive they are about finding creative ways to include children with disabilities in school. Read Making Schools Inclusive: How Change Can Happen: Save the Children’s Experience (PDF format, 4.14 Mb) for examples of progress.
Then, there is probably some variation depending on the disability. A child with a relatively mild walking-related disability, for example, might have only minor difficulty reaching school if it is not too far. Or a child with undiagnosed and unaccommodated dyslexia might sometimes make it through a few years of school, and even learn a little, before they quit in frustration.
But if that 98% figure is anywhere close to the mark, then it is safe to say that the MDG target on universal primary education has failed disabled children miserably. We do know that they are very disproportionately left behind: the UK Department of International Development (DFID) says that one-third of the 72 million children who are out of school have disabilities, even though people with disabilities are only an estimated 10 percent of the world population in general. And this only covers the education-related target of the MDGs; the new website on disability and the MDGs points out gaps in all the rest.
Disability Inclusion is Everyone’s Business
So what’s the answer to this problem? A thorough response to this question would fill a book. One thing, however, is clear: It will not be resolved by any one government or organization working in isolation. And it certainly will not happen if resource-strapped disability-oriented organizations are left to tackle the problem alone. It will take many governments, agencies, and organizations working together–including those that do not normally specialize in disability issues. In short, everybody who is doing anything to address the MDGs needs to identify better ways to include people with disabilities in the work they’re already doing.
This begins by increasing everyone’s awareness of the complex relationship between disability and the MDGs. By “everyone” I mean both disability advocates (so they can help advocate the issue) and also mainstream international development professionals (so they can find ways to ensure their programs are not inadvertently leaving disabled people behind). Either way, you can start learning at the new website on disability and the Millennium Development Goals, Include Everybody, at:
What Do I Think of “Include Everybody”?
When you consider that this website is brand new, I think it makes an excellent start at covering the issues. In the long run, as with any new endeavor, I see room for them to expand. For example, their page on achieving universal primary school education or the page on promoting gender equality and empowering women could usefully link to publications such as Education for All: a gender and disability perspective (PDF format, 151 Kb). Or their page on combating HIV/AIDS, malaria, and other diseases could link to the on-line global survey on disability and HIV/AIDS.
They also could consider eventually developing a one to two page, attractive looking, factsheet on disability and the MDGs that advocates could print out and disseminate when educating others about the topic. They also could consider developing a similarly attractive, one-page factsheet for each of the MDGs individually. The latter could be useful, for example, for passing along to a specialist who only wants to read the information on child mortality without also having to wade through a lot of detail on environmental sustainability. Or vice versa.
But, for now, this web site is a good place to start learning.
The Include Everybody website has been publicized in several different locations by now, including the GPDD mailing list, the Intl-Dev mailing list, Joan Durocher’s mailing list, and others.
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