Lily Panish, RESULTS volunteer, and Dan Jones, Campaigns Manager, on a moment of huge opportunity for reversing the neglect of disabled people…

A child using sign language in school
Photo credit Ben Langdon / VSO

On Tuesday this week the world marked the UN’s International Day of Persons with Disabilities with the theme of breaking barriers and opening doors for an inclusive society and development for all. The main goal of the day was to raise awareness of the estimated 15 per cent of the global population (1 billion people) living with a disability, their rights, and the hardships many millions of disabled people face around the world, such as lack of equal access to basic education and healthcare.

Regular RESULTS readers and grassroots volunteers will know only too well the ways in which disabled people have been neglected and left behind from development efforts. The Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), which have been crucial to so much progress in education, health and other issues in low income countries, failed to include any mention of disability. Yet now we know that disability and poverty are closely intertwined, and the world is starting to wake up to the fact that global goals like the goal to achieve universal primary education by 2015 cannot be reached without including disabled people. With 57 million children of primary school age still out of school around the world and progress stalling, disabled children clearly make up a substantial proportion of those out of school children. Some estimates suggest disabled children may be over a third of the total out of school population, and in some countries being disabled makes it twice as likely that a child will never enroll in school. For example, in Nepal, it is estimated that 85% of all children out of school are children with disabilities.

Ade Adepitan, Paralympian and TV Presenter, speaks in Parliament
Ade Adepitan, Paralympian and TV Presenter, speaks in Parliament

Here at RESULTS the day was recognised with a parliamentary event that we organised as part of the Bond Disability & Development coalition, which brings together over 40 UK-based international NGOs with a mission to ensure that the rights of  people with disabilities are included in all international development policies and interventions. The event was a great success, with Lynne Featherstone MP (Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for International Development) speaking alongside Ade Adepitan, the Paralympic medalist and TV presenter. Also speaking at the event were Annisa Rahmania, a deaf Leonard Cheshire Disability Young Voices campaigner and Rt Hon Sir Malcolm Bruce MP, Chair of the International Development Committee.

Picture of speakers: Caroline Harper, CEO of SightSavers, Ade Adepitan, Annisa Rahmania and Lynne Featherstone MP.
From left: Caroline Harper, CEO of SightSavers, Ade Adepitan, Annisa Rahmania and Lynne Featherstone MP.

Meanwhile, a joint letter to the editor from the BOND Disability and Development Group, co-signed by Aaron Oxley, RESULTS UK’s Executive Director and several other Chief Executives, was published in The Times. The letter urged the UK Government to take action and insist that the rights of people with disabilities be upheld in the global development framework that will replace the MDGs post-2015. Here is an excerpt from the letter:

“There are more than one billion disabled people in the world of which an estimated 150 million are children – 80 per cent living in developing countries. Disabled people rarely have equal access to basic goods and services and their rights are regularly denied which affects their economic, social and political progression and that of their families.”

“We urge the Government and party leaders to recognise that in the sustainable development goals after 2015 the rights of disabled people must be recognised to build diverse, prosperous and inclusive societies.”

This letter follows on from the important and very welcome recent commitments, announced by Lynne Featherstone MP in September, that DFID is to do more to support disabled children in education. DFID recognised the importance of giving greater access to education for people with disabilities by committing to make sure that all future schools built in developing countries with direct UK support will be made accessible.

DFID is also calling for improvements to global data on disability, and an increased emphasis on disabled people in future development targets.

The incredible progress on this issue continues, with the recent announcement that the Parliamentary International Development Committee has launched an inquiry into disability and development, which RESULTS and our grassroots volunteers have been campaigning for for a long time. The Committee is asking for written submissions from interested organisations and individuals, to help them understand the issues for disabled people in developing countries and the ways in which DFID can best support them. Rest assured that RESULTS UK and our coalition partners will be ensuring that the Committee is able to listen to our concerns and recommendations on this issue.

This year we’ve seen some huge milestones reached in the ongoing, global efforts to ensure children with disabilities are able to receive a quality education. To everyone that has supported this campaign, thank you! There is plenty more work for us to do in 2014!

As a final note, we wanted to highlight that the Global Campaign for Education, of which we are part, launched a new report on International Disability Day which will shape its campaigning in 2014 on disability and education. The excellent report, “Equal Right, Equal Opportunity: Inclusive Education for Children with Disabilities” is well worth a read. RESULTS will be supporting the GCE’s campaign in 2014 so watch this space for more news on that front!