The disconnect with disability

Taking stock: It is important to hear the voices of a significant number of the disabled who live in the global South, a place where development has greater meaning and impact. Photo: The Hindu Photo Archives   | Photo Credit: PARTH SANYAL

Friday, April 5, 2013, marked an important day in the global development agenda. From this day, there would only be a thousand days more to achieve the targets set by the Millennium Development Goals (MDG) to the extent possible. Although the performance of the MDGs has come under tremendous critique, it cannot be refuted that these goals have given the world a unified development agenda on poverty, education and gender issues.

There are two parallel tracks of discussions currently ongoing: one that is more focused on the post-2015 agenda, and the other which urges caution in shifting the focus to post-2015, underlining the fact that it may be too soon to write-off the MDGs.

This is a good time for people with disabilities to take stock of things.


Although a substantial percentage of the world’s population is affected by disability, there is no mention of disability in the MDGs. This despite the well-established connection between disability and poverty, the fact that children with disabilities are the ones who have been left behind, and the fact that women with disabilities are even more marginalised and face multiple discrimination.

In India, home to 70-100 million people with disabilities, a study in 2003 conducted by the National Centre for Promotion for Employment for Disabled People (NCPEDP) showed that only 0.51 per cent of students with disabilities were enrolled in mainstream schools. Likewise, a survey of the top 100 companies of India in 1999 showed an average rate of employment of 0.4 per cent for persons with disabilities. These figures haven’t improved over the years. A review done by NCPEDP recently shows that less than one per cent of students with disabilities are in top colleges and universities, and less than one per cent of people with disabilities are finding employment.

Today, the World Health Organisation says that one billion people, or 15 per cent of the world’s population, live with disability. Of them, 800 million or 80 per cent live in the global South.

People with disabilities comprise 20 per cent of the world’s poorest. In this scenario, it is not only imperative that disability is intrinsic to the processes for fulfilling the MDGs by 2015, but must also be a significant part of debate, discussions and outcomes of the post-2015 development agenda.

Steps forward

To do so, it is important for the global disability movement to take into account a number of factors.

Looking South: if 800 million of the world’s one billion people with disabilities live in the global South where development has a far significant meaning and impact, it is essential that their voices are heard, and heard loud and clear.

High-level meeting on disability and development: one of the most significant milestones in the disability movement is the upcoming U.N. High Level Meeting on Disability and Development in New York on September 23, 2013. This meeting will hopefully set the tone for inclusion of disability in the global development agenda. Advocacy is required to ensure that governments take this meeting with the seriousness it deserves. It is also important to connect this meeting with the opening of the General Assembly debate on September 24, 2013 and the special event on MDGs on September 25, 2013.

Engaging with national governments: it is essential to garner the support of Member States for disability and for them to include it in their country’s priorities. Disability is a non-political issue and the chances of it being opposed are less. However, the probability of it not making to a majority of the countries’ list of priorities is much higher.

Disability as a development issue: the fact that disability is a crosscutting issue has by and large been well-established. But the new argument put forward by disability rights advocates is that it is not just a human rights issue but also a development issue. Therefore, it needs to be looked from that point of view as well.

Going to the grassroots: to reach that last person with disability in the remotest corner of our villages, it is essential that we focus on the grassroots. We need to adopt a sense of caution at the sudden, seemingly top down disability agenda and related advocacy.

Leaving disability out of the development agenda is a mistake the world cannot afford a second time. It is time that all stakeholders are nudged into action to avoid doing so.

(Dorodi Sharma is programme manager at the National Centre for Promotion of Employment for Disabled People and assistant to the chairperson, Disabled People’s International, the world’s only cross-disability disabled people’s organisation with membership in 130 countries.)

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