Diverse ability, not disability: our new commitments

james General

‘The issue of disability has too often been side lined’, following the Global Disability Summit Claire Spoors outlines Oxfam’s new commitments to recognising and supporting people with disabilities.

Credit: DFID

Credit: DfID

Last Tuesday the UK Government, along with the Government of Kenya and the International Disability Alliance, played host to the first ever Global Disability Summit to tackle the barriers facing people living with disabilities in the world’s poorest countries. The fact it was the first summit of its kind may surprise some but unfortunately the issue of disability has often been side-lined in the development and humanitarian spheres. The summit’s hashtag #NowIsTheTime may sound glib but it rings true.

Disability can’t be siloed when one in six people in developing countries live with a disability. As a group, people with disabilities tend to be poorer, and suffer more discrimination, exclusion and violence – including sexual and gender-based violence – than others. They are also disproportionately affected in humanitarian emergencies, and face multiple barriers in accessing protection and humanitarian assistance, including relief and recovery support.

Just as the sector has recognised that gender justice is key to ending poverty we must now embrace disability inclusion, as without it there cannot be true economic empowerment and equality
Just as the sector has recognised that gender justice is key to ending poverty we must now embrace disability inclusion, as without it there cannot be true economic empowerment and equality for all. While we have a long way to go to being truly disability inclusive – as we also do with regards to achieving gender justice – that is no excuse not to do what we can now.

In relation to our programmes, Oxfam has done and is doing some great things in terms of incorporating disability into our work. Most notably in Bosnia at the height of the civil war in the early 1990s, Oxfam worked with disabled children that had traditionally been cared for in centralised institutions until state services collapsed, and established a centre that sought to integrate the children into the local community rather than separate them from society (see Disabled Children in a Society at War: A casebook from Bosnia).

Testament to the work Oxfam undertook back then is the fact that the centre – Koraci Nade, meaning steps of hope – is still going strong today. More recently, since 2016 Oxfam’s Mosul Response Public Health Promotion (PHP) Programme has been working to identify and assist people with disabilities with particular regard to their sanitation needs.

However, we have not been diligent in ensuring good practices become mainstreamed across our work and that is why, in addition to signing the summit’s Charter for Change we have made the additional following commitments:

  • Ensure all humanitarian programme and technical guidelines are updated to be inclusive of the needs of people with disabilities. This will include assessment protocols, and accountability/feedback processes that are accessible to people with disabilities.
  • Work with local partners with experience of working with people with disabilities to develop inclusive disaster preparedness and disaster risk reduction (DRR) guidelines.
  • Develop a protocol on consistent data/taxonomy for disability.
  • Work towards including statistics on people with disabilities in our programme reporting.

With regards to our policy and advocacy work, we have also committed to acknowledge the distinct and intersecting needs of people with disabilities as part of our policy development. To inform this work, we will seek to use best practice research and evidence from across the sector.

In line with the principle ‘nothing about us without us’ we have committed to start reviewing our progress on an annual basis in improving recruitment of people with disabilities as well as raising greater awareness of disability amongst all employees and volunteers as part of our wider diversity and inclusion work.

The number of commitments made at the summit by governments, multilateral organisations, business and NGOs are impressive – not least the commitments by nine national governments to pass laws to give people with disabilities greater rights. For me, though, as a proud mother of a little boy who has a disability, the biggest achievement of the summit was simply bringing this issue into the light – only by making people with disabilities visible will the stigma end and their potentials be fulfilled.

My favourite phrase heard repeatedly at the summit was ‘diverse ability not disability’ and it is true that when people with disabilities are treated with dignity, their rights respected and their voices heard they then have the opportunity to be active members of society and be part of the solution to ending poverty.


Helen Lindley-Jones