Government ownership is critical for disability inclusion in developing countries

Author: Bagival Pradeep Kumar

More than 80% of people with disabilities live in developing countries and face multiple barriers in their day-to-day life to access basic rights on an equal basis with other citizens. The proclamation of the International Year of the Disabled in 1981 marked the beginning of the disability rights movement to promote disability inclusion. Among the many developments that have taken place since then, adoption of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) has contributed significantly in moving towards an inclusive society.  After 40 years of work in making societies inclusive by different stakeholders, it is indeed a matter of concern to note that persons with disabilities still face various barriers in accessing their rights and development is far from becoming inclusive for the largest minority group globally. This is largely due to the fact that national governments even after ratifying the CRPD are yet take the ownership of promoting disability inclusion in the national development agenda.

National governments have been vested with a constitutional responsibility for promoting disability inclusion and it is this mandate that makes their role unique and critical when compared to other actors such as the UN, multi-lateral donors, CSOs and Organizations of Persons with Disabilities (OPDs).  All the three organs of the government, Legislative, Executive and Judiciary have a complementing role in promoting inclusion by ensuring that the needs and concerns of persons with disabilities become an integral part of their respective mandates so that inequality in not perpetuated.

Legislatures have to be truly representative and parliaments as well as the provincial legislatures have to proportionately dedicate their time in discussing issues pertaining to the rights of persons with disabilities as they are citizens first and are entitled to enjoy the fundamental rights and freedoms guaranteed under the constitution, national disability law and other human rights treaties to which the governments are a state party. Oversight of the parliaments and the provincial legislatures over the executive (nodal ministry and other relevant ministries responsible for disability affairs) will ensure disability inclusion within the policies and programs of the government. The Right of Persons with Disabilities Act 2016 of India has an enabling provision for the Chief Commissioner and provincial Commissioners for Persons with Disabilities to prepare an annual report on the status of the implementation of the disability law which should be discussed in the parliament and in the state legislatures respectively.

The Executive authority of the government in the context of disability inclusion is the ministry in charge of promoting the rights of persons with disabilities along with other key ministries that share the responsibility of making development inclusive for persons with disabilities. The nodal ministry has to be more sensitive to the needs and concerns of people with disabilities and ensure that the national disability law and CRPD is implemented in letter and spirit. The role of the nodal ministry is paramount and the officials who are heading the disability department should possess the capacity of promoting disability inclusion and in implementing both the national disability law and the CRPD. As required under Article 33 of the CRPD, the disability department is generally identified as the focal point within the government to coordinate with various other ministries and stakeholders for the implementation of the CRPD.

Identifying champions within the government is historically seen as a good practice of governance. Achim Steiner, Administrator of UNDP in one of his Ted Talks said that it is not systems that build systems but individuals who build systems.  

In many developing countries, the staff working in the disability department often lack passion and commitment to the cause of disability inclusion and this becomes a major impediment in making the rights real for persons with disabilities. There are many instances in developing countries where certain government officials have championed the cause of inclusion and contributed significantly to the national disability rights movement.

The role of the Judiciary cannot be undermined as they have an exclusive role to safeguard the rights of persons with disabilities guaranteed under the constitution and the national disability legislations. There are examples of the judiciary playing a proactive role in addressing stigma and discrimination against persons with disabilities and in reminding the executive authorities about their responsibility in making societies inclusive. In many developing countries, failure on the part of the judiciary in effectively safeguarding the human rights of persons with disabilities has broadened the existing chasm for an inclusive society.

It is commonly observed in many developing countries that judicial authorities are not fully aware with the barriers people with disabilities face and also the provisions of the national disability legislations and the CRPD. It is necessary for the disability stakeholders to sensitize the judiciary on the rights of persons with disabilities so that the national disability law and the CRPD become effective instruments of disability inclusion within the development agenda of the governments.

 In line with the principles of the CRPD, the role of the OPDs is crucial in ensuring national governments take ownership of disability inclusion. Development policies and programs are inclusive when people with disabilities through their representative organizations are involved from the stage of conceptualization to evaluation. OPDs make significant contribution towards inclusion when governments provide space for them to participate in the decision-making process.

To date there has been no attempt by the disability stakeholders to develop a tool to measure overall disability inclusion or in having an index to measure ‘disability inclusion gap’ at the country level, although the OHCHR has put forward a set of indicators to monitor the implementation of each individual article of the CRPD.

UN entities work on the basis of ‘no gap policy’ which means it is only with collective effort of all actors, can a larger vision be achieved. Similarly, to achieve disability inclusion, all the key actors should act in unison and have a common strategy to ensure disability is included in development agenda so that persons with disabilities are equal recipients of development and are not left behind.

Pradeep Bagival

Disability Inclusion Advisor

Mr. Bagival was formerly the Asst. Commissioner for Disabilities, Government of India, Disability Inclusion Advisor to the UN (UNDP, UNICEF and WHO) and with International NGOs and has been a Disability Advisor to Governments of Afghanistan, Cambodia, North Korea and Lao PDR.   The views expressed in this blog are his own.