15% of the world’s population – over a billion people – live with a disability, and disabled people are also disproportionately more likely to be among the extremely poor. The World Bank estimate that 20% of people living below $1.25 a day are disabled. The link between disability and poverty works both ways: disabled people are more likely to become poor, and poverty is also a major cause of disability. Disabled people are frequently excluded from accessing basic services, including education (approximately one third of out of school children of primary age have a disability) and health (disabled people are more likely than non-disabled people to report being denied access to healthcare, not being able to access appropriate healthcare, and being badly treated by healthcare professionals).
But despite this, there has historically been very little attention to the rights and needs of disabled people in development work. There is no mention at all of disability in the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). This is a serious problem – discrimination against disabled people frequently leads to being trapped in a cycle of extreme poverty for life, and there is far too little done to address the specific problems faced by such a big section of the population that the MDGs are supposed to target.
But is this changing? We have seen encouraging signs in recent months that disability is moving up the list of priorities in the development sector. RESULTS has been working with BOND’s Disability and Development Group and with an informal group of NGOs who are campaigning together on the need to improve disabled children’s access to quality education in the developing world, and we are seeing more receptivity to our messages.
The development world is currently deep in discussions around what will happen after 2015, the date at which the majority of the MDGs targets are due. The MDGs have framed the international community’s development efforts for the last decade, and how the successor framework is set up is likely to have an equally big influence on how we do development post-2015. The disability movement is pushing hard for recognition of the specific needs that disabled people face – see the interesting discussion by AK Dube, Chief Executive of the African Decade of Persons with Disabilities, in this Guardian article from 2011, and Mr Dube’s blog for Sightsavers. With the entry into force of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in 2008, we have much greater tools at our disposal in this set of negotiations. The World Health Organisation has also made a major contribution in recent years, with the publication of the World Report on Disability in 2011 providing crucial hard evidence on the situation facing disabled people around the world.
It’s too early to know for sure, but with David Cameron being appointed to the UN High-level Panel on Post-MDGs we in the UK have an opportunity to feed into how the conversation develops. At RESULTS we will be pushing strongly for an approach based on equity and inclusion, including for disabled people. Watch this space for more news!