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Disability in Global Development

Updated: Sep 2, 2020

Rachel Diotte-Lyles

Photo by mostafa meraji on Unsplash

People with disabilities are significantly underserved, particularly in the Global South. The governments in the Global South are notorious for neglecting these people’s place in development (UN Enable - World Programme of Action, Page 4/10). It has been estimated that approximately 80% of all people with disabilities live in isolated and rural areas, concentrating in developing countries. In many developing countries, the estimated disabled population is as high as 20% (UN Enable - World Programme of Action, Page 4/10).

Most people with disabilities live in extreme poverty, typically in areas where medical attention is scarce (UN Enable - World Programme of Action, Page 4/10)), where reversible impairments become irreversible. Further, complicating the issue, they do not have the proper rehabilitation and support services for the disabled populations. There is a wide range of services and resources necessary for people with disabilities such as assisting with medication or giving information in alternative formats (Braille) and languages, such as sign language; however, developing countries are limited on many fronts from having properly trained personnel and to the necessary equipment (UN Enable - World Programme of Action, Page 4/10; Manning, Susan & Acker-Verney 2016).

Many developing countries have also faced a population boom. Because these countries don't have the skill set needed to identify, prevent, and support disabled populations, the quality of care and services offered to disabled people suffers as the population grows (UN Enable - World Programme of Action, Page 4/10).

Notwithstanding this alarming information, research shows that advancement strategies and projects in the Global South frequently do not consider the experiences of people with disabilities.

Development projects that do not appropriately consider people with disabilities may inadvertently be strengthening the existing imbalances previously mentioned. Global development policies and programs have the potential to greatly improve quality of life for persons with disabilities, therefore the meaningful inclusion of persons with disabilities should be a priority in development policy and practice (Manning, Susan & Acker-Verney 2016).

Furthermore, reports show that proactive action is necessary to ensure that persons with disabilities are systematically included and able to participate in humanitarian efforts. However, existing many of the existing efforts do not follow such suggestions (Inclusion of Persons with Disabilities in Humanitarian Action: 39 Examples of Field Practices, and Learnings from 20 Countries, for All Phases of Humanitarian Response | PreventionWeb.Net).

For example, Disabled People South Africa (DPSA) estimates that 14 percent of South Africans live with disabilities. While the government of South Africa has made efforts to include children with disabilities in the schooling system, namely through official policy. In practice, many children with complex needs face several accessibility barriers and are unable to receive adequate educational support (Manning, Susan & Acker-Verney 2016). In this case, the official policy is simply not enough to support children with disabilities if the resources needed do not exist.

Thus, it is of utmost importance that governments and NGOs in the Global South make a conscious effort to support and include persons with disabilities if development efforts are to be beneficial for all (UN Enable - World Programme of Action, Page 4/10).



Marchildon, Jackie. “5 Facts About Living with a Disability in the Developing World” Global Citizen, 23 Nov. 2018, https://www.globalcitizen.org/en/content/disability-in-the-developing-world/.

Hans, Asha, and Reena Mohanty. “Inclusion of Disability and Gender in Disaster Management and Response.” PreventionWeb, Shanta Memorial Rehabilitation Center, www.preventionweb.net/english/professional/trainings-events/edu-materials/v.php?id=9661. Accessed 19 Mar. 2020.

Palmer, Tom et al. “Inclusion of Persons with Disabilities in Humanitarian Action: 39 Examples of Field Practices, and Learnings from 20 Countries, for All Phases of Humanitarian Response.” ReliefWeb, CBM International, Humanity & Inclusion, International Disability Alliance, 3 Dec. 2019, reliefweb.int/sites/reliefweb.int/files/resources/Case studies_Inclusion of persons with disabilities in humanitarian action_CBM_HI_IDA.pdf.

Manning, Susan, and Julianne Acker-Verney. "(Re)Building Inclusive Societies: Critical Reflections in Disability and Global Development." Alexa McDonough Institute for Women, Gender and Social Justice. Mount Saint Vincent University, 2016, 6dc.msvu.ca:8080/xmlui/bitstream/handle/10587/1786/Implicating Disability in Global Developmentmar11.pdf?sequence=1&isAllowed=y.

"World Programme of Action Concerning Disabled Persons." UN Enable, https://www.un.org/esa/socdev/enable/diswpa04.htm. Accessed 19 Mar. 2020.

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