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A New Era for Persons with Disabilities and International Development?

A New Era for Persons with Disabilities and International Development?
Ismot is about 13-years-old and has never been to school. She is blind and has an intellectual disability. She is non-verbal, but seems to understand a few simple sentences. In this photo, Ismot is learning to take her goat to graze. Goat raising will help support her and her family.Transition Planning Asia

by Charlotte McClain-Nhlapo

Momentum behind the disability-inclusive development agenda is at an all-time high — and growing. The Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD), the key international document, now has 163 States-Parties. Additionally, the Addis Ababa Action Agenda and the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction have been clear steps forwards. Most recently, the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) lay out, in the UN 2030 Agenda, explicit mention of disability in five of its 17 SDGs.

The CRPD recognizes that persons with disabilities are often hindered from full and effective participation in society on an equal basis with others. The CRPD draws upon, first, the “universality, indivisibility, interdependence and interrelatedness of all human rights”; second, the need to “mainstream … disability issues as an integral part of relevant strategies of sustainable development”; and, third,  the implicit universality of disability. Whether due to crime, conflict, accident, or disease, disability can appear anywhere, regardless of the degree of peace or prosperity. Indeed, while the percentage of the world’s population living in extreme poverty is declining — down from 37% in 1990 to 12.7% in 2012 — the percentage of the world’s population with a disability has surged from 10% in 2006 to 15% in 2011 (now to over 1 billion people). Yet existing development efforts are not reaching the poorest of the poor. While approximately 80% of persons with disabilities live in developing countries, only 3–4% of them are estimated to benefit from development work.

Because disability is both a cause and a consequence of poverty, and because it affects all aspects of society and development, a crosscutting, multilateral approach is needed. Further, failure to be inclusive from the start may inadvertently create long-term barriers for persons with disabilities. Inclusive development efforts do not necessarily require any additional “hoops” but rather the attentive positioning of existing procedures. Moreover, accessible and universal design benefits all, making it a win-win situation. Recognizing all of this, the CRPD calls for casting a wide(r) net, stressing the mainstreaming of disability in all development programmes.

Article 32: A normative basis for inclusive development

Unique among international treaties, in its Article 32, the CRPD explicitly obliges States-Parties to work with each other and with other development partners. Including disabled persons’ organizations (DPOs) is central to that co-operation. Article 32 signals a paradigm shift that moves beyond traditional passing references to active co-operation, instead placing specific obligations for sustained multilateralism and continued co-operation. It urges knowledge sharing and developing international best practices. Article 32 galvanizes the disability-inclusive development agenda with its call for active partnerships.

A less evident but no less important effect of the CRPD is on data. The dearth of disaggregated disability data has hampered robust understandings that might advance the disability-inclusive agenda. By not only mandating data collection in its Article 31, but by also advancing co-operation in development and data collection efforts in its Article 32, the CRPD lays the normative basis for developing a data-driving, silo-breaking understanding of the nuances of disability.

A new age for partnerships

Implementation of the CRPD and of the SDG processes present opportunities to not only to re-engage with DPOs and innovative donors, but also to redefine development at large. Around the world, inclusive partnerships and platforms are thriving at all levels. The European Union is considering a harmonized policy on disability-inclusive development, and mainstreaming disabilities in all of its policies and programmes, complete with mechanisms for recording disability-disaggregated data. Additionally, powers to take back funding from projects “perpetuat[ing] the segregation of persons with disabilities” are also under consideration. The African Disability Forum, a broad platform aiming to ensure that persons with disabilities are involved in decisions concerning development projects, was recently launched. Similarly, the Pacific Disability Forum has done much to build the capacity of DPOs and to improve the lives of persons with disabilities through advocacy.

The World Bank: Building bridges

In all of its efforts, the World Bank is committed to its twin goals of ending extreme poverty and boosting shared prosperity, in which the disability-inclusive agenda plays an important part. To that end, a disability-inclusive development knowledge-silo breaker (DID KSB) has been created to facilitate a cross-sectoral approach to inclusivity in Bank operations at large.

The Bank has also taken great strides to advance international co-operation. First, the Bank has built upon existing multinational relations with the UN Inter-Agency Support Group, the United Nations Department for Economic and Social Affairs (UNDESA), and Global Action for Disability (GLAD), as well as advancing inclusivity in disaster risk reduction by participating in the Sendai process. Second, the Bank has been developing more active collaborations with key bilateral donors, such as DFID, DFAT, and USAID (UK’s Department for International Development, Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, and the United States Agency for International Development). Third, and most excitingly, in 2016, the Bank signed formal agreements with both Leonard Cheshire Disability and the Nippon Foundation, two leading disability-inclusive development partners. The formalization of these two partnerships will help to develop best practices and collect disability-disaggregated data with a worldwide purview. It will also foster projects including inclusive education, employment, information and communications technologies (ICT), building global DPO networks, promoting knowledge sharing, as well as exchanges of expertise and staff.

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Fundamentally, the CRPD recognizes that co-operation results in more sustained and effective efforts, and that lessons can be learned from sharing perspectives. Article 32 turns that recognition into an obligation, signalling a new era for inclusive development — an era where disability shifts from a siloed, often-sidelined position to one that cuts across all development efforts.

Charlotte McClain-Nhlapo is a human rights lawyer and currently the Global Disability Advisor to the World Bank Group. She has also been a Disability Coordinator to USAID and a Commissioner on the South African Human Rights Commission.

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