Print this page

Rachel Garaghty

  Inclusive ICT


Inclusive Development as a Model of Progress for Persons with Disabilities

Tell a Friend

Disability inclusive development aims to meaningfully involve people with disabilities in all aspects of international development, including as equal recipients of benefits produced by development, writes Rachel Garaghty.

The term “Inclusive Development” is based on the assumption that people with disabilities have faced historic barriers to inclusion in mainstream international development projects. As a result, they have not been equal beneficiaries or participants in international development programs and processes, which limits the overall success of poverty alleviation efforts in developing countries.1 Disability inclusive development (henceforth, inclusive development) on a large scale aims to meaningfully involve people with disabilities in all aspects of international development, including as equal recipients of benefits produced by development.2
Inclusive development discourse hinges on a human rights model of disability, which gained momentum towards the end of the twentieth century with the emergence of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD).3,4 Human rights advocates claim that people with disabilities are entitled to the same rights as those without disabilities, without exception. This claim arises in response to the pervasive discrimination that people with disabilities have faced all over the globe and has important implications for international development.5 Prior to the emergence of the human rights model, disability was treated principally as a medical issue and international work in developing countries focused on rehabilitation and disability prevention.6  While such disability-targeted programs certainly have a role to play in international development, alone they are not deemed enough to empower people with disabilities to enjoy equal rights and rise out of poverty.7
Access to international development programs for persons with disabilities requires foresight and planning. Improving overall accessibility involves tackling problems such as negative attitudes, misperceptions about disability, barrier-laden environments, and lack of appropriate accommodations. In this respect, the accessibility of international development programs must be viewed holistically.8 Programs should be carried out in physically accessible environments and development projects, such as the construction of a well, latrine, school, or clinic, should follow internationally established principles of universal design. Often, low-cost modifications such as ramps, guide rails, appropriate signage, etc., can greatly enhance physical accessibility and facilitate the involvement of people with disabilities.  

People with disabilities should also feel safe and welcomed in development programs; disability-related stigma, common throughout the world, can severely hinder their participation; it is important to remain cognizant of attitudes that act as barriers. For women and girls with disabilities who experience the “double burden” of gender- and disability-based discrimination, removing attitudinal barriers can be as important as removing physical barriers.  Involving women and girls with disabilities in development processes is one way of empowering them as well as ensuring that programs are accessible to them. However, the most effective method for inclusion is meaningful outreach: international development organizations must be committed to reaching people with disabilities.
The challenge of disability inclusion is not only making it happen, but making sure it happens well. Disability inclusive practices should be evidence-based and strongly shaped by people with disabilities themselves. In this respect, mainstream international development organizations have an important role to play. Learning from disability organizations, they can become influential disseminators of good practice for other organizations and governments alike. With widespread implementation, disability inclusive international development programs will not only alleviate the financial burdens governments face meeting the needs of disabled citizens, but also model good practices that spur the effective implementation of policies and laws.

[1] Lord, Janet, Aleksandra Posarac, Marco Nicoli, Karen Peffley, Charlotte McClain-Nhlapo, and Mary Keogh. Disability and International Cooperation and Development: A Review of Policies and Practices. World Bank, 2010.

[2] Ibid.

[3] International Disability and Development Consortium. Inclusive Development and the Comprehensive and Integral International Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Rights and Dignity of Persons with Disabilities. Handicap International, 2005.

[4] —. "Inclusive Development and the UN Convention." UN Enable. 2004.

[5] Ibid.

[6] United Nations. “Disability and the Millennium Development Goals.” New York: 2011.

[7] Bualar, Theeraphong, and Mokbul Morshed Ahmad. "Why does Community-Based Rehabilitation fail physically disabled women in northern Thailand?" Development in Practice 19, no. 1 (2009): 28-38.

[8] Dutch Coalition on Disability and Development. Moving Up the Learning Curve: Inclusive Development Today. Dutch Coalition on Disability and Development, 2005. 
Rachel GaraghtyRachel Garaghty is a recent graduate of the University of Minnesota (U.S.A.) where she earned a Master's degree in Public Policy. Rachel specializes in disability inclusive international development and is interested in innovative, low-cost technology and practices to create accessible environments for people with disabilities.