Global disability and development conference calls for a unified rights-based approach
The exclusion of hundreds of millions of people with disabilities from international development programmes is an ongoing injustice and must change. “We have become complacent. We have been far too patient in the face of injustice.” This is the conviction of Robert Prouty - Executive Director of the Global Partnership for Education - who spoke at the recent joint Leonard Cheshire Disability / UN Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific conference.
Conference delegates echoed this by calling for the promotion of a rights-based approach to combating discrimination and mainstreaming disability. Participants also argued that disability must be included in the post-2015 development framework.
The conference on disability-inclusive Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and aid effectiveness was held from 14–16 March 2012 in Bangkok (Thailand). 70 speakers, a third of whom have disabilities, shared their experience and good practice on how best to achieve full inclusion. From this starting point, 350 participants from 65 countries explored how to ensure that persons with disabilities are fully included in development programmes.
Exclusion, injustice and the future of inclusive education
Speaking about MDG 2 – universal primary education – Mr Prouty said. “There have been some amazing successes in education over the last few years, with a reduction from 100 million children out of school in 2000 to 67 million in 2009.” However, according to UNESCO, at least a third of those out-of-school children have disabilities. “What is unacceptable,” continued Mr Prouty, “is that we do not yet have a good understanding of who these children are.”
To help find out, the Global Partnership for Education (GPE) carried out a national survey of 16,859 households in 12 provinces in Cambodia, which found that 21% of people had disabilities and 32,753 children were out of school. This is despite the fact that a previous government census found that less than 1% of the population had a disability.
GPE uncovered that untreated impairments were a major cause of educational exclusion in Cambodia and that these were easily handled by referrals through the project. For instance, the project made 2,725 appointments for children to be assessed and treated locally. Hearing loss was a common impairment among the children, and the assessment teams found that roughly two thirds of children regained their hearing through antibiotics for ear infections or other simple treatments.
The GPE team shared the story of one six-year-old Cambodian girl who had difficulty hearing the teacher in class, which is a common cause of children dropping out of school. At her hearing assessment it was found that the child had blocked earwax caused by an ear infection. Had this been addressed earlier, only a dose of antibiotics would have been needed. At this later stage, she also had to have the earwax drained. The girl regained 35% of her hearing on the spot.
The conference acknowledged that many children with disabilities need more complex and ongoing kinds of support. However this study, and others like it discussed at the conference, show that it can be straightforward to link children with the services that will support them to attend their local, mainstream schools.
Will the new framework have the heartbeat of the village?
To mobilise such inclusion, the conference called for people with disabilities to be full participants in all the planning, design and implementation of any new development frameworks.
“Over the past decade since 2002 a unique network of organisations and advocates has come together over the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD),” said conference speaker Professor Nora Groce. “This means that today, in 2012, the global architecture of the disability community is different and much more advanced. We can – and should – approach the growing discussion on what will replace the MDGs with a new and unified voice,” concluded Professor Groce, who is Chair of the Leonard Cheshire Disability and Inclusive Development Centre at University College London.
For this to be most effective for people with disabilities, Jabulani Manombe Ncube, a disability activist, said we must together ask of the new framework: “will it have the heartbeat of the village?”
In Africa, Mr Ncube said, “there is a degree of policy confusion and the CRPD needs to set the standard for disability inclusion in development.” Mr Shuaib Chalklen, UN Special Rapporteur for Disability, added that a research study commissioned by disabled people’s organisations in Africa found that, “there was a serious lack of understanding amongst ministers of the human rights approach and their own policies”. Mr Chalklen went on to say that “it's a common trend in African governments, where a policy is made at national level, but does not reach provinces or rural areas – local governments may not be aware of national-level policy.”
Against this background, a unified voice from the disability and development community is now even more vital in ensuring that any new framework reflects the needs and priorities of all people with disabilities. From children with hearing loss in Cambodia to those relying on local government provision in Africa, recognising and acting on our shared human rights will be the best way to fight the injustice of exclusion.
>To read the conference call for action, papers and presentations, read here
>For interviews with delegates, articles on the contents and audio clips of speeches, read here
>The world’s first fully searchable online database of government disability and development projects was launched at the conference. Visit the site here
This report was compiled by Diana Shaw, International Writer and Editor at Leonard Cheshire Disability