This is the second piece in a three-part series on development workers with disabilities. See part one, and check back next week for the final installment!
By Rebecca Berman
In the previous post, I discussed some of the reasons there are so few people with disabilities working in international development. Now, I want to talk about why this needs to change.
I would like to make a public call to development professionals – individuals, NGOs, government agencies – to not just include people with disabilities in programming, but to make hiring them a greater priority. It’s time to move past the “We need to include people with disabilities” rhetoric often heard at international conferences, and start asking, “How can people with disabilities be active participants as employers, diplomats and field workers in international programs?”
This way, people with disabilities aren’t just recipients of aid, but are active participants in the process of creating change.
These are some of the benefits of hiring aid workers with disabilities:
1. Visibility is everything.
In a development context, there are often discussions on hiring both international and local staff. This is due in part to the idea of cross-cultural exchange that both parties can contribute to. The same can be said for what happens when people with disabilities are involved in projects at a leadership level. As many people may not know about disability issues, the visibility of leadership can create learning opportunities and change existing stigmas towards disabilities.
In Tanzania, I am currently taking Kiswahili classes. Someone asked my teacher, “How can she learn?” in relation to my deafness. My colleague here (also with a disability) has been working on creating accessible infrastructure – a task in which the accuracy of accessibility may not have occurred without the expertise of a local person with a disability. Thus, visibility reduces the lack of knowledge that is often a barrier to disability employment and related programming.
2. Accessibility for one person means accessibility for all (or getting closer to “all”).
When an environment is made accessible (if it isn’t already), it enhances the environment for everyone, not just the person with a disability. A recent article detailed how image descriptions on websites benefit not just people who are blind or with low vision. They’re also useful to people with slow Internet connections, and they’re beneficial by calling attention to important aspects of the picture. The same can be said about “Easy to Read” versions of booklets, which also benefit people who aren’t fluent in the language or who want a condensed version of a longer text. Thus, accessibility has hidden benefits that people aren’t aware of until they’re exposed to the accessible materials (or the need for such).
3. Overcoming the socioeconomic effects of disability unemployment
The mindset of exclusion of people with disabilities from the workforce has damaging results that lead to economic losses. A 2014 project by the British Council reported that Pakistan is losing up to 6% of its annual GDP by excluding people with disabilities in multiple sectors. Since many areas interweave with employment (such as education, training and health), increased focus on inclusion in all sectors is not just good for “moral purposes,” but also serves a practical purpose in boosting the economic well being of an entire country.
A country’s labour market also faces losses due to exclusion. This has been seen in the labour markets of Bangladesh and Morocco, with $891 million and $1.1 billion lost per year, respectively.
4. Disability will soon be “the new gender” (if it’s not already).
With the Sustainable Development Goals and 159 countries ratifying the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD), disability will also become more prominent in future development programming. The past decade has seen an increase in gender mainstreaming; I think the next decade will see more disability mainstreaming, along with a focus on other minority communities.
Like gender, disability is a cross-cutting issue. Disability is related to poverty, democracy, climate change, WASH, refugees, gender, and so on. For instance, women with disabilities are three times more likely than those without disabilities to experience sexual violence. Thus, there is a need to integrate women with disabilities in gender programming. The same can be said with poverty initiatives. Since people with disabilities are more likely to live in poverty due to unemployment (and other factors), they should also be targeted in poverty-reduction programs. As they say, if you don’t have a disability in your lifetime, you will know someone who does.
Even if it isn’t your primary focus, issues concerning people with disabilities will inevitably appear in your field. Besides, aren’t we supposed to ensure that the greatest number of beneficiaries are reached by our programs?
Rebecca Berman is a Mosaic International Fellow in Tanzania, where she is coordinating an inclusive education program and supporting other initiatives for children and young adults with development and intellectual disabilities. She has previously worked with Handicap International and the International Foundation for Electoral Systems, and has provided self-advocacy training in the U.S., Kenya, Guatemala, India and Ghana. You can follow Rebecca on Twitter.
Featured image shows volunteer Kate Nelson, herself deaf, working with colleagues in Fiji. Photo from Wikimedia Commons.