An important breakthrough on disability, aid and development

Mosharraf HossainOne of the trends in aid and development in recent years has been increasing recognition of issues around disability. A lot of that is down to Juliathe activism of Disabled People’s Organizations (DPOs). Here disability campaigners Mosharraf Hossain and Julia Modern update us an important breakthrough

In April we blogged on this site about the publication of the UK parliament’s International Development Select Committee report on disability and development. Last week the Committee published the official response to the report from the government. It’s a thorough and thoughtful reply to the challenges that the Committee set to the Department for International Development (DFID), and the changes that are set out have big implications for practices throughout the international development sector, particularly for organisations that DFID funds (including NGOs and multilaterals), which will find themselves increasingly being held accountable for whether they include disabled people in their work.

What does this mean for the 800 million disabled people living in the developing world? The proof will be in the implementation, but this is a giant leap forward. DFID have made a public commitment to prioritising the inclusion of disabled people, improving their own work and signalling to others that more needs to be done. In the humanitarian sector in particular the response talks about a fundamental shift, with disaggregated reporting on age and impairment of recipients a requirement in all future humanitarian proposals.

After Cyclone Sidr in Bangladesh in 2007 I witnessed the results of not thinking about the inclusion of disabled people in emergency responses; with thousands of people competing for limited assistance, disabled people lost out. Monitoring recipients and supporting training in disability inclusion for relief providers will help to ensure this doesn’t happen in the next disaster responses.

While DFID

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haven’t accepted every recommendation made by the Committee, they have committed to an impressive series of actions:

  • Publish a disability framework by November 2014. To be developed in consultation with Disabled People’s Organisations (DPOs) and NGOs, the framework will set out DFID’s ‘commitment, approach and actions to strengthening disability in our policy, programme and international work.’
  • Strengthen DFID’s capacity to work on disability inclusion, by: appointing a senior-level managerial champion to work alongside Ministerial champion Lynne Featherstone MP; increasing the number of staff working on disability in the central policy team and creating a network of disability experts across DFID; and creating a ‘basic disability awareness module’ that will be rolled out to all staff, as well as providing more and better guidance on inclusion.
  • Push DFID’s partners towards disability inclusion, including through the World Bank’s current safeguards review; reviewing the Multilateral Aid Review process to check that it adequately monitors disability inclusion; and asking civil society organisations that DFID funds to report on disability in future annual reviews.
  • More thoroughly embedding disability in DFID internal processes, for example by including DPOs in the Ministerial disability advisory group, putting ‘specific reference to considering disability and other vulnerabilities in guidance for future country level operational plans’, and strengthening inclusion in large-scale programmes ‘through strengthened systems as well as ministerial and managerial championing’.


It is this last area, strengthening DFID’s internal processes, in which the response gives least detail, suggesting that whether the attempt to embed inclusion into DFID’s processes is successful will be decided largely by the details of the new disability framework, to be produced by November. We hope that the framework will address a few areas that remain unclear:

  • There isn’t much information in the response about how DFID’s practices will change at country level.
  • The response doesn’t fully engage with how DFID will access the expertise of Southern DPOs.
  • While DFID set out a clear commitment to support the development of better data on disability, they have not taken on board all the Committee’s recommendations ADD pic 2about monitoring of their own programmes or other UK ODA spending.
    The investment DFID is making in global capacity to collect data on disability should be matched by setting out in November’s framework a timescale for introducing systems to collect this data in all DFID bilateral programmes. Gathering this data is the only way to properly monitor whether DFID are increasing on that 5% of bilateral aid going to programmes that consider the needs of disabled people, and is therefore an essential part of making sure the increase happens.


DFID’s response is truly promising, and shows respect and consideration to the evidence the inquiry received from disabled people and their supporters. As a trend-setter in development, we hope and expect that the promised changes will be transformative for disabled people in the developing world.


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3 Responses to “An important breakthrough on disability, aid and development”
  1. Guna

    It is indeed a major breakthrough. DIFID report states “DFID rightly sees disability as a matter of equal rights and discrimination, not just a medical issue. We agree this should be the focus of its disability work. Nonetheless, there are significant development gains to be made by treating and preventing the conditions that cause disability. Yet treatment and prevention make up only a small part of DFID’s current health work: it should urgently review its spending in these areas, where it risks missing important opportunities. The prevention of disabling injuries should also be a priority in DFID’s major infrastructure investments such as road building.” This is critical as in some mainstream agencies support given to persons with disability is perceived as welfare hence excluded there by limiting the participation of people with disability in development programmes. People with disability have different needs to others in order to access their rights/ participate in development. Disability inclusive development will be possible only when disability specific needs are also considered. Catering to these specific needs should not be seen as welfare but like any other training or capacity building initiatives in a development project. Offcourse provision of aids and appliances cannot be an end but a means to access development.

    Having recently moved to Australia from India, I have seen the debate of welfare Vs development take control of participation of people with disability in development programme especially when it involves government funding. I sincerely hope DIFID’s initiative will change this.

  2. Nathalie Herlemont

    Thanks for this post! Having been involved with Handicap International for years in disability issues, I confirm there is indeed an evolution, that still has to be practically implemented when it comes to field operations, especially in emergency situations… Happy to read this then, since it is also a way to disseminate sensitization!

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