What’s next for the (rapidly growing) global disabled people’s movement?

Last week I headed off to the Kennington Tandoori for one of those enjoyable food-fuelled brainstorms that seem to happen during the summer lull. This Mosharraf Hossainone was with two disability campaigners – Mosharraf Hossain (right) and Tim Wainwright of ADD International. ADD is doing some brilliant work supporting the emergence of Disabled People’s Organizations in Africa and Asia.

ADD is at the forefront of what feels like a coming issue in aid and development. The UN Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities, adopted in 2006, is now hurtling (by UN standards) through the process of national ratification (as of August 2014, 147 countries have ratified, and even the US is rumoured to be about to sign up, despite its traditional hostility to convention-signing).

DPO protest, South Africa
DPO protest, South Africa

Ratification triggers a process of incorporation into national legislation and policy. As seen previously with UN Conventions on child rights or violence against women, the key to such processes actually making a difference is the presence of social movements on the ground to press for implementation. That’s where ADD comes in – it supports the growing number of DPOs (Disabled People’s Organizations) with funding, advice on policy and international networking. (Mosharraf has spent the last 20 years helping build a dynamic DPOs movement in Bangladesh and has just moved to London to be ADD’s head of policy and advocacy).

The other reason disability is going to go up the development agenda is numbers. The WHO estimate one in seven of the world’s people are disabled, and 110-180 million are severely disabled. In developing countries many of them are among the most marginalized and excluded, often being treated abominably. Unless something changes, the rising tide of growth is going to do precious little for disabled people, so all those conversations about ‘getting to zero’ are going to have to start taking disability much more seriously.

Hence the brainstorm – how to help the global disability movement in its efforts? Here’s a few of the topics we covered:


DPO rally, India
DPO rally, India

Widening the alliances. Which ‘unusual suspects’ could be persuaded to back a growing global disabled rights movement? Faith organizations? Which corporate sectors might see a natural fit with the issue – perhaps IT companies that have so much to offer to people living with disabilities?

Celebrity Champions: Who are the Angelina Jolies of disability?  (yes, ADD is already trying to talk to Stevie Wonder ). Steven Hawking too obvious?

Institutional Champions:  DFID is currently leading the way on this (see this recent post). UK leadership is partly why Mosharraf has moved to the UK from his native Bangladesh – the hope is that DFID develop the new policies and approaches that the rest of the aid world can then adopt/adapt.

Academic champions: who is the Richard Layard or Thomas Piketty of disability?

Research: Lots of possibilities here for some bottom up research. How about something longitudinal, interviewing communities and their disabled citizens over a period of years, as Oxfam is doing on food prices? Or use IT to build a network of disabled correspondents who can answer periodic surveys or respond to topical questions? Time for Apple or Google to step up?

Then some strategic questions: should the disability movement go mainstream or build a separate strength? For example, should it be seeking to insert disability issues into other global discussions on education, health etc, or establish disability as a legitimate separate topic for discussion? (lots of efforts to include disability in the post2015 process after it was ignored in the MDGs).

All good fun, but as we left the restaurant, I got a tiny glimpse of the reality of life for disabled people. Mosharraf is a wheelchair user, after contracting polio aged 3. Luckily he arrived early, because he had to go home to get his crutches to be able to manoeuvre over the entrance step and into the restaurant. As we left the waiter, (even though he was a fellow Bangladeshi), he turned to me to ask about the arrangements for getting Mosharraf to the bus stop. Not quite ‘does he take sugar?’, but not far off. Last word to Mosharraf ‘we look forward to meeting you again in some other location, which will be step free and people will be free from prejudice.’ Looks like the Kennington Tandoori just lost some customers.

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5 Responses to “What’s next for the (rapidly growing) global disabled people’s movement?”
  1. Marion Steff

    Thanks for a very interesting post. It seems to me that to involve the global disability movement, we also need to ensure people with disabilities can be made aware of their rights and actually be reached and empowered. Too often, DPOs (Disabled People’s Organisations) and BPOs (Blind People’s Organisations) are not involved in high-level meetings due to a number of reasons (funding, lack of support/empowerment; accessibility, etc). However, I would have to disagree with two points: 1) having celebrity champions with disability is not enough. If we want to see a difference, everyone with or without disability should be aware that inclusion is a concern for all; 2) DFID is in the process of becoming a leader in the field of disability with the aid framework (it will be published in November) – however, the real champion at the moment is AusAid with its Development for All Strategy.
    More bottom-up research is in fact needed. People with disabilities have to play a central role. They must be the participants, not simply the subjects. ADD, in collaboration with Sightsavers, HelpAge and IDS conducted such a study last year in Bangladesh. The Voices of the Marginalised(http://www.sightsavers.net/blogs/insights/marion_steff/19611.html) brought together people with disabilities and older people to collect data among peers. They were provided with a voice and were excited to contribute to building the body of evidence to ensure the needs and rights of marginalised people were included in the post 2015 agenda. In terms of global advocacy, this study has been incredibly helpful to reach policy-makers with a pragmatic and real perspective.

    Last point: I am not sure there is a right or wrong answer to your question on the mainstreaming of the disability movement. If it is mainstreamed, disability can be forgotten without a clear and coherent effort; if it builds its separate strength, it might marginalise itself even further… a two-pronged approach is perhaps the best option??

    Marion Steff.
    Sightsavers Policy Advisor (Social Inclusion)

  2. Linda Kelly

    Hi Duncan,
    Great to see this post on a very important area. For lessons learned you might want to look to Australia. Already INGOs there have been well lead by a small number of specialist agencies who are working to educate us all on disability inclusive development (see especially the work of CBM in Australia). This has led to the Australian government through DFAT having a strong policy on disability in development and been the basis for a range of good programs. Good engagement with Disabled Peoples Organisations and a willingness to listen have been important steps in building a more inclusive agenda in the work of many agencies.

  3. Mosharraf Hossain

    Marion, you are maverick!

    It is convention that DPOs will talk among themselves on their own issues.

    I agree with you that involvement of DPOs and BPOs are low in the high level discourse. And the engagement of key stakeholders of the society in disability issue is even lowest. But the causes you mentioned are technical. The origin of DPOs/BPOs is rooted in especial schools, especial education, CBR etc., which contribute to create individualism or isolation. It is easy for them to live in their own comfort zone – to work among themselves. I think we now need new thinking, and new leadership to challenge the comfort zone and open windows for inflow and outflow between DPOs and the wider society.

    My comments on your three points:
    Awareness of people with and without disability is the main ingredient of the campaign for inclusive society. Adding celebrity champions is icing on the cake. Icons have their own capacity to influence people and promote the cause. There is nothing wrong to capitalize the strength of these people, who are also important part of the society.

    AusAid is pioneer, but it is difficult to assess who is real champion in disability and development. AusAid has strategy of development for all. But DFID spends more money than AusAid to support disability rights movement in Bangladesh. Both DFID and AusAid supported DRF to promote disability rights throughout the world. Pioneers are effective to create the path, but what is more effective is building consortia of aid agencies for inclusive development – “leave no one behind”.

    Mainstreaming of disability and strengthening disability movement are not zero sum game. Rather, they are two legs of the twin track approach. Mainstreaming is not just including disabled people in the project or program of an organisation or agency. Mainstreaming is the transformation of the society. Disability movement is means, while mainstreaming is the end. Disability mainstreaming will never happen unless there are strong DPOs – vanguards of the process!

    However, the weakness of the disability movement is the isolation. In that evening, we met in Kennington Tandori to generate some ideas. The ideas on how to mobilise the resourceful stakeholders of the society to engage with the disability movement to create a wider movement to make the world inclusive for All.

    At the end, we got 30 ideas! I think we should organise disability specific TEDx.

    Mosharraf Hossain
    Director of Policy and Influencing
    ADD International

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