One billion persons have a disability worldwide, but meaningful inclusion remains a challenge.
In this Q&A, Ruby Holmes, an inclusive governance global specialist for Humanity & Inclusion, expands on the organization’s commitments ahead of the Global Disability Summit, which will be held virtually Feb. 15-17.
What is the Global Disability Summit?
The Global Disability Summit (GDS) is the second summit of its kind. The first one brought stakeholders from different governments, civil society organizations, the UN and organizations of persons with disabilities (OPDs) together in 2018, to discuss disability inclusion and inclusive development.
Disability inclusion is a key topic: about 1 billion persons, that is 15% of the global population, have a disability – and this is only an estimate due to lacking global disability data. Persons with disabilities are the largest minority group in the world.
Because of a lack of awareness amongst governments and service providers, persons with disabilities face many barriers, such as accessibility factors. However, one of the main barriers is attitudinal, as they face a lot of stigma and discrimination. One of the major challenges today is awareness raising, to show that persons with disabilities have equal rights and must have access to services just like everybody else.
Why is the GDS a key moment for inclusion and disability rights?
The GDS is important because of the momentum that the disability rights movement is gaining globally. We really want to keep those conversations, those partnerships going. It is also extremely important to hold stakeholders accountable to implement their commitments and ensure they are including persons with disabilities and OPDs in all of their programs, policies and initiatives.
A report by the Stakeholder Group of Persons with Disabilities found that between 2014 and 2018, less than 2% of international aid was disability relevant. So international stakeholders must really continue to support funding, providing more direct support to OPDs and pay them for their expertise.
What are HI’s commitments for the GDS?
Inclusive health, inclusive education and inclusive humanitarian action are part of the topics and themes that were produced by the Summit Secretariat. They are also pillars to Humanity & Inclusion's work and interventions.
In inclusive education, Humanity & Inclusion commits to working with local education actors to train teachers to include students with disabilities. The work will include a focus on supporting children and young people with a range of diverse and complex needs, such as intellectual disabilities, communication impairments and psychosocial disabilities. Humanity & Inclusion commits to developing a guidebook and toolkits within the next two years, to developing research on the itinerant teacher and support mechanism model, and to applying these innovations in at least five new flagship projects over the next two years. Amongst other actions, Humanity & Inclusion also commits to advocating for financing efforts, to strengthen inclusive education systems and increase investments, in international platforms and networks.
For the health sector, Humanity & Inclusion is focusing on sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR). Among other items, the organization is committing to develop at least four new inclusive SRHR projects over the next four years, through meaningful participation of organizations of persons with disabilities. In addition, through continued and renewed advocacy with key partners, Humanity & Inclusion commits to influence at least four policies, strategic planning or budgeting processes in the U.S., Canada, United Kingdom and European Union in the next 4 years.
Inclusive humanitarian assistance
Persons with disabilities are routinely ignored during disaster preparedness and often left behind when disaster strikes. More climate-induced disasters will increase the vulnerability of persons with disabilities. To fight against that, Humanity & Inclusion is committing to support persons with disabilities to meaningfully participate in humanitarian responses. By the end of 2025, the organization will develop, pilot and share two sets of tools for field professionals and three lessons learned from case studies.
Humanity & Inclusion has also created a commitment on meaningful engagement and sustained partnerships with OPDs across all of its projects. Throughout livelihood and education initiatives, Humanity & Inclusion will implement capacity building on advocacy and inclusive policies in five countries by the end of 2026. The organization has also made a commitment on acknowledging disability, gender and age as cross cutting components and critical vulnerability factors for populations affected by sudden onset or long-term crisis or poverty. Recognizing the diversity of the disability community, Humanity & Inclusion is committing to implement its disability, gender and age framework within all its projects by the end of 2023, to ensure that further marginalized groups, such as persons with psychosocial and intellectual disabilities, receive equal opportunities and representation in all initiatives.
The meaningful participation and inclusion of persons with disabilities is also key in many other topics, such as climate action and disaster risk reduction. Humanity & Inclusion attended COP—a global climate change summit—in Glasgow in 2021 and disability inclusion was not at all on people’s radar.
What outcomes is HI expecting of the GDS?
We need to increase the scale and ensure that disability inclusion is meaningful, not just a tick mark. Humanity & Inclusion is definitely advocating for more funding on inclusion projects. The organization also wants stakeholders to be intentional about disability inclusion from the very beginning and include OPDs in the design of their projects.
Humanity & Inclusion is expecting more dedication from States, UN entities and donors to support inclusive actions. Commitments are not legally binding agreements and there was a lack of response from some stakeholders at the last summit. For this summit, there has to be more pressure, more follow-up. Commitments have to be much more time-bound and practical, so that they are more likely to be achieved.
What added value can HI bring?
The GDS is very aligned to Humanity & Inclusion’s work and mission. For 40 years, Humanity & Inclusion has worked alongside persons with disabilities and populations living in situations of extreme hardship, in order to respond to their essential needs, improve their living conditions, promote and respect their dignity and fundamental rights. Humanity & Inclusion is also unique in that it is working in situations of poverty and exclusion, but also conflicts and disasters. The organization’s actions encompass the thematic pillars of the summit, focusing on more development context through education and health but also working in many situations focused on humanitarian action.
Furthermore, through its disability, gender and age policy, Humanity & Inclusion is taking more of an intersectional approach to inclusion. This approach is gaining a lot of traction globally: it is an important time and momentum to look at the various identities of a person and the role they play in their everyday lives.
Why is it important to support OPDs?
Obviously, we have to stay true to the disability rights motto: nothing about us without us. How could we work on disability rights without including persons with disabilities? They are the experts of their own needs, the barriers they face and accessibility. They must play a central role in ensuring that their human rights are translated into concrete measures that improve their lives.
OPDs are a way for persons with disabilities to come together and have a united voice. That uniform voice and collective movement has really played a huge role in the traction that the disability movement has had globally.
Humanity & Inclusion has historically always partnered with local organizations, to promote their meaningful participation, equal access to opportunities and resources as well as accessibility of the environment.
For instance, Humanity & Inclusion’s teams are working in Iraq with the Iraqi Alliance of Disability (IADO). In 2019, Humanity & Inclusion supported IADO in a joint publication on a shadow report on the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD), which helped the UN committee learn more of a civil society perspective. It led to 69 recommendations to the Iraqi government, which actually encouraged the Prime Minister to sign a decree to reserve a certain percentage of jobs for persons with disabilities.
What is HI doing to support OPDs?
Humanity & Inclusion has been supporting the implementation of the CRPD in 59 countries and currently has about 35 country projects across 25 countries, where it is working with OPDs. Humanity & Inclusion is supporting OPDs through small grants, capacity building (workshops and trainings on creating an advocacy action plan, for instance), partnership building and elevated advocacy efforts, from the local to the regional, national and international levels.
Humanity & Inclusion’s main goal is to work at the local, very grassroots level, and then support those efforts to reach the national and international level, to create networks and spark constructive dialogues. For instance, Humanity & Inclusion has a regional capacity-building program in 15 countries in West Africa. The lead OPD partner is the Western Association of the Federation of Persons with Disabilities, who is in turn supporting smaller federations of OPDs.
In most contexts, Humanity & Inclusion does not need to play the advocacy role, as the organization is only acting as a support and not replacing OPDs.
Ruby Holmes is an inclusive governance global specialist. She has been working at HI for over 3 years and represents the organization in a number of international consortiums. She is working alongside HI teams to help them support civil society and organizations of persons with disabilities, through training materials, capacity-building workshops, advocacy events, etc. She is making sure HI is partnering with local organizations and that they're being engaged in a very meaningful way.