Development OUTREACH, July 2005

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By Jean-Louis Sarbib,
Senior Vice President and Head of the Human Development Network, The World Bank

Source: WORLD BANK INSTITUTE, Web Magazine

Disabled people constitute one of the largest and poorest groups among people living in poverty. Plausible estimates of the number of disabled people in developing countries range upward from 400 million, and many more people are involved with disability as family members of disabled people.

Poverty rates among disabled people are high even if the same poverty lines are used that are applied to the general population. And, Nobel laureate Dr. Amartya Sen recently pointed out in a keynote address at the World Bank that, if poverty lines are adjusted to reflect the fact that disability absorbs substantial amounts of both time and money, poverty rates for disabled people will be even higher. It is clear that the fight against poverty will not succeed without focused efforts to address the needs of people with disabilities.

Addressing the issue of disability requires cutting across the boundaries of traditional disciplines. People speak about disability and development using different vocabularies, and the way they view the subject reflects varied geographic backgrounds, experience from diverse disciplines, and different institutional affiliations. This issue of Development OUTREACH has been designed to reflect a rich array of viewpoints and approaches on disability and development. Each article contributes to a fuller understanding of each other article, and each can be fully appreciated only in the context of the entire body of work on the subject.

The magazine opens with an article called “The United Nations and Disability,” by Edoardo Bellando. It describes various areas in which the UN is working on disability issues and highlights its work on the UN Convention on Disability. The UN is at the forefront of recognizing disability as a human rights issue and its convention is the cornerstone of this approach. It is a vital piece of work not only because of the substance that is emerging from it—governments that ratify the convention will be legally bound to give people with disabilities clearly defined rights—but also because of the process that is creating it. Disability groups, organized in a Disability Caucus, have for the first time claimed their place at the drafting table, thus making their motto, “nothing about us without us,” a reality.

Complementary to the UNs’ work on human rights is progress in placing disability firmly on the economic development agenda. The full potential of a human rights approach will only be reached, in my view, if it proceeds together with the creation of an environment in which economic progress is also possible. Economic gains will not automatically follow from human rights advances, but a human rights framework will remain hollow if not accompanied by improvements in the economic well-being of disabled people.

Economists have been rather slow to see disability as an important aspect of poverty in developing countries. A central reason is a vicious circle between research and data. Since data about disability in developing countries are limited and difficult, researchers have tended to by-pass the topic. At the same time, since researchers have not been clamoring for data, the foundation of facts about disability in developing countries is weak. In his contribution, “Research is Key to Moving Disability up the Economic Development Agenda,” Daniel Mont, an Economist and Consultant with the Human Development Network at the World Bank, focuses on this problem. He assesses the current state of play, describes recent attempts to improve the situation, and calls on researchers to redouble and harmonize their efforts to generate good data and research.

In many developing countries, policy makers have also been slow to consider disability in the context of economic development programs and policies. An important reason is that disabled people have been underrepresented in positions of influence and power, both because of educational constraints and because of discrimination. “Change from Within,” by Ilene R. Zeitzer and Kathy Martinez, documents the positive impact of having people with disabilities in positions of responsibility.
One of the consequences of general neglect by policy makers is another vicious circle: since policy makers in developing countries have not insisted that foreign assistance programs take disability explicitly into account, foreign assistance providers have been able to argue that “it’s not something developing countries think is important.” Yet, since programs of foreign cooperation often have not raised issues of disability and poverty, policy makers in developing countries have had one less reason to include it on their agenda.

This vicious demand-supply circle is beginning to break down. Several foreign assistance providers, most notably the Scandinavian countries, have made disability an ingredient in their foreign aid programs. Some large foreign assistance providers are also taking note, and we include here contributions from three of them: DFID, USAID, and the World Bank.

DFID has adopted a twin-track approach to inclusive development that is laid out in “DFID and Disability,” by Philippa Thomas: (1) specific initiatives to empower and enhance the lives of disabled people, and (2) mainstreaming disability across all areas of its work. DFID is also determined to develop a more diverse workforce by recruiting more disabled people, particularly at higher levels.
USAID is taking a number of actions to include disabled people more fully in the design, implementation and evaluation of its development efforts. “Access for All,” by Lloyd Feinberg and Rob Horvath, focuses particularly on accessibility standards in USAID-financed construction.

“Access through Technology,” by Mohamed V. Muhsin, describes the World Bank’s efforts to make the World Wide Web, computer technologies, telephony and video conferencing work for disabled people.

Some of the most fascinating and productive international initiatives in the area of disability and inclusive development do not come from large foreign assistance agencies, but from NGOs working in cooperation with each other and with other partners. We present a few of these initiatives here:
“ Independent Living Empowers People with Disabilities,” by Adolf Ratzka, describes a worldwide movement of disabled people who work for self-determination, self-respect and equal opportunities.

With origins in the US civil rights and consumer movements of the late 1960s, the Independent Living movement replaces the special education and rehabilitation experts’ concepts of integration, normalization and rehabilitation with a new paradigm developed by disabled people themselves.
“ Breaking the Barriers,” by Venus M. Ilagen, describes a cooperation between the National Federation of Disabled Persons in the Philippines (KAMPI) and the Danish Society of Polio and Accident Victims (PTU) called Breaking Barriers for Children. For the past 10 years, the program has been establishing satellite Stimulation and Therapeutic Activity Centers in 118 municipalities.

“Economic Empowerment of Women with Disabilities in Ethiopia,” by Robert Ransom of the ILO, recounts the story of Mebrate Gebre-Yesus, a woman disabled while fighting in opposition to the former government, and now helped by a program called Entrepreneurship Development among Women with Disabilities in Ethiopia.

“From Norway with Love,” by Lars Odegaard, presents a number of initiatives by the Norwegian NGO, Atlas Alliance. It describes how Atlas Alliances’ work both in Norway and in the field—namely, in Lesotho—have benefited disabled people and inspired them to take the initiative in their own hands.
“ Disability Enlightenment: Improving Services to Disabled People through Veluga,” describes a project partnership between the World Bank and The Society for the Elimination of Rural Poverty (SERP), a quasi-government body in India. SERP has been entrusted with the responsibility of implementing all of Veluga’s components with the overarching goal of enhancing the economic and social mobility of the poor, and to improve their quality of life. This multi-objective project has as a key component the mandate to bring the eternal light of Veluga to the disabled citizens of Andhra Pradesh.
Several articles in this issue of Development OUTREACH have a sectoral point of view: education, health, communications and post-conflict.

“Education for Persons with Disabilities: Towards Inclusion,” by Kenneth Eklindh of UNESCO, speaks on behalf of disabled school-age children. Since 40 percent of school-age children who are not in school have disabilities of one kind or another, Education for All (EFA) must include strategies to combat discrimination and remove structural and attitudinal barriers and to focus on the needs of children with disabilities. The UNESCO “Flagship on the Right to Education for Persons with Disabilities: Towards Inclusion”promotes a broad concept of education that aims at full inclusion in society.

“The Forgotten Tribe,” by Ambrose Murangira, describes a triple burden in Uganda: disability, poverty and HIV/AIDS. Disabled people are more vulnerable to HIV/AIDS than the general population because information programs have not been tailored to reach them effectively and because discrimination has limited their access to health services. Murangira is a young blind Ugandan who calls for inclusion of disabled persons in the national crusades for HIV/AIDS prevention and management.

In “Disability and Broadcasting,” Simon Minty filters the development of media approaches to disability through his own personal experiences over the last 10 years. Changes at the BBC, the Broadcasters and Creative Industries Disability Network and Sky Television offer hope that the communications sector all over the world can be a positive force in reducing stigma and discrimination.

“Inclusive Development in Post-Conflict Societies,” by Her Majesty Queen Noor of Jordan, is Her Majesty’s personal account of the work being done in the area of landmine eradication. Over the past several years she has worked with the Landmine Survivors Network and the International Coalition to Ban Landmines in the global battle to eradicate not only landmines but the effects of landmines. And, as you might imagine, many of the activists working on this campaign are, in fact, disabled and fiercely determined to improve the lives of persons with disabilities.

The articles in this issue of Development OUTREACH share a tone of dynamism, and a sense that things are on the move. They call for moving from advocacy to policy and action. It would be premature to claim that efforts to mainstream disability in the development agenda have reached full maturity, yet these articles illustrate broad progress across a wide front. Like the pieces of an emerging mosaic, the efforts described in this issue are building a hopeful picture of an inclusive future for disability and development.