According to the World Health Organisation, and the World Bank, 15% of the world’s population experience some form of disability. Statistically, disabled people are more likely to be poor, both financially and in terms of education, health and wellbeing.
Disability is becoming recognised as a cause, and a result, of poverty. It is not just the individual’s impairment that causes problems, but the intersection with other barriers, for example not being able to access schools or work. Underpinning these barriers are a web of social beliefs and attitudes, influencing the way we approach disability issues.
Here, we examine some of the ways disability is approached and its links with poverty, as well as examining how the needs of disabled people relate to international development and particularly the Global Goals. To download a copy of this article, click here.
Models of Disability
There are three approaches to the issues that disabled people face.
The Medical Model: This tends to focus on what a person can and cannot do, identifying their impairments as needing to be cured, or alleviated. This is not necessarily wrong, but can result in ignoring other barriers which disabled people face.
The Charitable Model: This is a tool to raise money for a given cause. Regarding disability, it will often portray disabled people as tragic victims of their condition or situation. However, can those people that you are asked to give money to support, also be seen as equal community participants?
The Social Model: This identifies the social and environmental barriers which exclude disabled people from participating in everyday life. It will often emphasise disabled people’s rights and argue that many impairments are part of the human condition.
Within International Development there is an increasing focus on human rights, which includes the right to appropriate services, as well as identifying the need for more resources to enable communities to move forward. For disabled people this means removing the barriers which hinder their access to jobs, health care, education and so on. As a community develops, disabled people must not get left behind.
Many of the concepts, within Disability and Development, are not dissimilar to those in Gender. Agencies often involve disabled people within their work, but don’t challenge the underlying economic and social structures that give rise to their general lack of inclusion.
The Link Between Poverty and Disability
Several studies have linked disability and poverty. Sightsavers found that 79% of blind people in North East Guinea were economically inactive, compared to 2% of sighted people. The World Report on Disability highlights that disabled people are more likely to be unemployed, less educated, but spend more on health.
DfID describes a vicious circle of disability and poverty. Factors common to poverty, such as having poor sanitation, risky working conditions, and lack of health care, can increase the prevalence of disability.
Disability and the Global Goals
None of the MDGs which preceded the Global Goals mentioned disability. Now disability is addressed under 4 of the goals:
- Goal 4. Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote life-long learning opportunities for all
- 5: by 2030, eliminate gender disparities in education and ensure equal access to all levels of education and vocational training for the vulnerable, including persons with disabilities, indigenous peoples, and children in vulnerable situations
- a: build and upgrade education facilities that are child, disability and gender sensitive and provide safe, non-violent, inclusive and effective learning environments for all.
- Goal 8. Promote sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all
- 5: by 2030 achieve full and productive employment and decent work for all women and men, including for young people and persons with disabilities, and equal pay for work of equal value
- Goal 10. Reduce inequality within and among countries
- 2: by 2030 empower and promote the social, economic and political inclusion of all irrespective of age, sex, disability, race, ethnicity, origin, religion or economic or other status
- Goal 11. Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable
- 2: by 2030, provide access to safe, affordable, accessible and sustainable transport systems for all, improving road safety, notably by expanding public transport, with special attention to the needs of those in vulnerable situations, women, children, persons with disabilities and older persons
- 7: by 2030, provide universal access to safe, inclusive and accessible, green and public spaces, particularly for women and children, older persons and persons with disabilities.
This is historic, but there is still work to be done to ensure that the needs of disabled people are systematically addressed.
The World Report on Disability makes recommendations which not only focus on enabling access to policies, systems, and services, but also invests in specific programmes and activities. It highlights the importance of including disabled people in decision making processes and raising public awareness. What it doesn’t do is challenge underlying structures that give rise to exclusion. Some questions to think about:
- Are all your activities and services accessible to everyone, including disabled people?
- What barriers do you face regarding disabled people’s inclusion?
- Do you challenge exclusion?
- Is it enough to create specialist services and/or increase access to mainstream services, or do we need also need to challenge social attitudes and beliefs?