There is reason to be optimistic about the U.N. report on disability rights, but there is also disappointment at its failure to make the poverty connection

The disability movement has waited anxiously for the report of the high level panel on post-2015, formed by the Secretary General of the United Nations, which was released in May. This document is expected to set the tone for the Secretary General’s report on the same issue which will be released in August. This will form the basis for various countries to form their own thoughts vis-à-vis the post-2015 development agenda.

The panel’s recommendations, therefore, have a bearing on the ultimate framing of the development agenda that will replace the Millennium Development Goals (MDG) in 2015.

Poverty and the South

According to the World Health Organization (WHO) and the World Bank, one billion people or one out of seven people in the world, live with a disability. That is 15 per cent of the world’s population. Of them, as many as 800 million or 80 per cent live in the countries of the global South, grappling with extreme poverty and other inequalities and injustices. They also constitute 20 per cent of the world’s poorest.

The eight MDGs were formulated at the turn of the century to give the world a unified agenda for development.

However, they missed out one of the most marginalised sections of the population: people with disabilities. The panel report, mentioned earlier, acknowledges this fact and the failure of the MDGs in reaching out to the most marginalised.

Learning from the past, the disability movement worldwide has been rallying for their inclusion in the post-2015 development agenda. Therefore, leaders and advocates working on the issue are happy that the report acknowledges disability.


The report does a fairly good job in underlining the premise of human rights, the universal agenda of development at the very beginning. It says, “The next development agenda must ensure that in the future neither income nor gender, nor ethnicity, nor disability, nor geography, will determine whether people live or die, whether a mother can give birth safely, or whether her child has a fair chance in life.”

It envisages five big transformative shifts i.e., leaving no one behind; putting sustainable development at its core; transforming economies for jobs and inclusive growth; building peace and effective, open and accountable institutions for all; and forging new global partnerships.

From the disability movement’s point of view, there are several positives about the report. They include the fact that:

1. universality of development is a human right; the basic premise of inclusion and social justice is highlighted as the guiding framework of the document.

2. disability is mentioned as one of the marginalised groups that should not be “left behind.”

3. disability is underlined as a cross-cutting concern; the report states “targets should only be considered ‘achieved’ if they are met for all relevant social groups.”

4. disability disaggregated data should be a part of the “data revolution.” The dearth of credible and disability disaggregated data has been the bane of the disability rights movement.

From there being no mention of disability in the MDGs, this is a huge step towards inclusion in the post-2015 agenda. But this sense of elation is also marked by cautious optimism as the report in its entirety falls short of living up to its promise of a universal agenda of development and of non-discrimination.

Of concern

It also fails to truly reflect on disability as a cross-cutting concern.

The major concerns in this area are:

1. The goals and the indicators do not mention disability.

2. Eradicating extreme poverty needs to take into account the added cost of disability and the fact that families that have members with disabilities also lose income on account of someone having to act as a constant caregiver.

3. Ageing and the rights of the elderly do not find any mention. The elderly are a section of the population most vulnerable to abuse and deprivation. There is also a connection between ageing and disability. Moreover, the world’s population is ageing.

4. Surprisingly, mental health does not feature in the report even though WHO says that more than 450 million people encounter this issue.

5. The issue of sexual and reproductive rights of women and girls with disabilities, especially the question of forced sterilization, needs to be clearly articulated.

6. Access to development (both in terms of infrastructure, information and community-based services) does not find any mention. This is a key concern for persons with disabilities.

Development without social justice is meaningless. For people with disabilities with high support needs, people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, and those with psychosocial disabilities who do not even have the “legal capacity,” it means nothing. They are not even recognised as persons. Without acknowledging these inequalities, the post-2015 agenda cannot meet the primary objective of “leaving no one behind.”

(Dorodi Sharma is with the National Centre for Promotion of Employment for Disabled People.)

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