What are the main factors behind the successes or failures of efforts to promote inclusion?

Author: Dr. Mohammed Ali Loutfy

Fifteen years after the ratification of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, there is no doubt about the level of progress taking place regarding the recognition of persons with disabilities as one of the major marginalized groups around the world. This recognition appears through the progress governments have made towards the adoption of national laws and regulatory policies on the primary rights of persons with disabilities like education, employment, accessibility etc. This progress has benefited from the ongoing discussion and processes about strategic issues, particularly in the areas of partnership, data, and accessibility.

On the level of partnership, the disability movement deserves to celebrate the significant collaboration between organizations of persons with disabilities, civil society, private sector companies, UN Agencies, Government entities, and multilateral development institutions. Such collaboration has been reflected strongly through the massive number of projects implemented to promote the rights of persons with disabilities to inclusion on many levels and in different sectors. Reports presented and side events held as part of several major conferences and forums offer tons of examples on such collaboration. Another important example is the strategic partnership between international organizations of persons with disabilities, forming the International Disability Alliance, and the International Disability and Development Consortium. One cannot but admire the tremendous efforts that are done through such partnerships that resulted in the creation of many programs of capacity building, and advocacy initiatives on the national, regional, and global levels. This effort has succeeded in introducing a new advocacy approach that emphasizes the essential connection between issues of socio-economic development and disability inclusion.

The discussion on issues of disability data launched in the aftermaths of the adoption of the sustainable development framework 2030 is one clear example on such approach. The recent toolkit on disability data as well as the report on experiences of persons with disabilities during the ongoing Covid/19 pandemic, both issued by the Stakeholder Group of Persons with Disabilities to the High-Level Political Forum on SDGs, offer an effective gateway for recognizing the essential role of data in enhancing evidence-based advocacy around issues of disability rights and inclusion. They also represent another tool for maintaining the momentum of the ongoing discussion around other, no less relevant strategic issues, such as the adoption of standards of accessibility throughout the overall spectrum of development operations, particularly by key stakeholders like the United Nations and the World Bank.

With all this in mind, one must not ignore the critical challenges that continue to face the progress of the recognition of global disability inclusion issues. While the disability movement has the right to celebrate its achievements since the adoption of the CRPD, it must not deny that there is still tremendous work to be done. Furthermore, it should be rather cautious of certain practices that play a role in hindering voices of persons with disabilities, particularly those who live in developing and underdeveloped countries.

Although organizations of persons with disabilities have increasingly focused their efforts on diminishing practices of segregation and institutionalization, welfare and service institutions are still active in playing their manipulative role in many countries. These institutions continue to benefit from the double standards approach pursued by major donor organizations, who, and in the name of recognizing rights of persons with disabilities to education and rehabilitation, insist on offering substantial support for their stigmatizing practices. Therefore, systematic de-institutionalization efforts for confronting the critical socio-cultural influence of these institutions need to be further recognized and enhanced by policy makers on all levels.

On another level, promoting the adoption of inclusive policies continue to be stuck within its    silo and partially planned efforts. Despite their increasing recognition of and commitment to rights of persons with disabilities, policy makers as well as disability and development practitioners have not yet shown, through their planning and programming efforts, serious consideration to the wholistic, cross cutting, and multi sectoral approach towards issues of diversity and inclusion.

Last but not least, one cannot ignore the global socio economic and political factors that have pushed grassroots organizations of persons with disabilities to becoming   foreign aid dependent. With the increasing emphasis on the business-like approach of disability and development operations, these grassroots organizations have found themselves in need to compromise their agendas, strategies, and if not their voices sometimes.

Yes, the journey of fully recognizing the right of persons with disabilities to inclusion is still at its very beginning. More efforts are required for freeing disability from the embedded socio-cultural stigmatization caused by the prevailing power of segregating institutions. The global disability movement should take serious measures and identify effective strategies for pushing further and further towards the systematic recognition of the wholistic, cross cutting, multi sectoral aspects of disability inclusion. Finally, grassroots organizations of persons with disabilities must work harder to build its own capacity and identify more effective strategies to maintain its independence without losing both its local and global partnerships, and it must remember that inclusion is freedom.