The world has come together and declared to “Leave No One Behind.” The new Sustainable Development Goals differ markedly from their predecessor, the Millennium Development Goals, not only in their scope, but also in their inclusiveness. For the first time there is more explicit mention of vulnerable groups, like persons with disabilities.
What we need to do is clear. How we pay for it, not so much.
Being inclusive comes with a cost. Yet, disability services or provisions for accessibility are still often not making it into grant funding opportunities from major foundations or bilateral government aid agencies.
I have heard development professionals spout the widely held, but incorrect, belief that by working at the grassroots and community level you will inevitably touch the most vulnerable and they will be better off.
The truth is that a rising tide does not lift all boats if some are being left on the shore.
What does it cost to send Eriki, a young boy with epilepsy and intellectual disabilities in Tanzania, to school? His school needs to have modified learning materials. They need extra staff that have been through training on inclusive education, and can provide support in a classroom that is already overcrowded.
What does it cost to get Andrei, a wheelchair user in Romania, a job? He needs to have a wheelchair. He will need access to public transportation or adapted transportation services. The building where he works must have a ramp or lift.
All of these are real costs. Some of them are ongoing and not finished at the end of a five-year project cycle. They can drive up program budgets, and NGOs already under immense financial pressures would much rather leave them off. Short-term thinking, rather than acknowledging long-term benefits, can lead to a cost-benefit analysis that sacrifices persons with disabilities.
Moreover, a persistent challenge, as noted by former Parliamentary Under Secretary of State at DFID, Lynne Featherstone, has been the lack of data that means people with disabilities “don’t count.” Disaggregating data by disability, as well as age, gender and socioeconomic status, adds another layer onto project monitoring and evaluation. For teams working on projects under time constraints, this might seem like another onerous reporting requirement rather than a step towards ensuring equality.
This is an area where development funders can learn from each other and move forward together. There are some funding agencies that are being more explicit and progressive in their commitment to disability inclusion. Australia’s Department for Foreign Affairs and Trade has a detailed disability-inclusive development strategy. DFID in the UK has an Inclusive Societies team. Ireland, a small country with a large commitment to foreign aid, has had a longstanding partnership with the ILO to support disability employment research and initiatives. USAID has developed an e-learning module on disability and development.
Yet, there is still much to do. Despite more movement of the issue onto the radar, agencies often do not explicitly mention or require disability inclusion in funding proposal requests. A report from Perkins International, US International Council on Disability and CBM found that of 85 USAID solicitations reviewed, 48% did not mention disability within the scope of work, and only 20% of solicitations required persons with disabilities to be included. Furthermore, the study found that it was only when significant language on disability inclusion was mentioned in the solicitation that projects reported disability inclusive programming.
Too often persons with disabilities are being shifted into a silo and, therefore, given lower priority and fewer opportunities to benefit from aid dollars. This is true in government funding as well as in private foundations. A survey of foundation funding of human rights found that only 4% of grants were specifically for persons with disabilities, while a combined 40% went to women/girls and children/youth. Few proposals recognise that there are women and girls with disabilities or children and youth with disabilities, and ask their grantees how they will reach them too.
NGOs and members of civil society must be active in pushing this issue further through their advocacy. Raise the issue of disability and intersectionality at conferences that focus on topics like “children’s health” or “women’s rights.” Disability-focused organisations can and should highlight intersectionality and push mainstreaming in the development agenda. If we are really going to reach the SDGs and “leave no one behind,” we need to put our money where our mouth is.
Featured image shows a piggy bank. Photo from pexels.com.