Why does the aid industry ignore disabled people?

Tim Wainwright, CEO of Action on Disability and Development asks the question in a post titled Development’s Cinderella?. It’s worth seeing the post for a collection of the reasons that the aid industry should include people with disabilities and also for examples of the changes that can be made when people with disabilities are included.

But I’m not sure if we’ve gotten closer to answering why it is that the aid industry ignores disabled people. People with disabilities are being ignored despite many things: despite the need of people with disabilities (as shown in the statistics quoted); despite an international UN Convention; despite many aid agencies having specific policies on disability. It is despite all these things that people with disabilities continue to be excluded from mainstream development work, its programmes on the ground, the decision-making surrounding them, and participation in the implementation as staff or in some other capacity.

My impressions from work in Bangladesh is it’s that people don’t know how to include people with disabilities. From development partners to government officials you can now hear very positive messages about including disability and about why this will be wonderful for everyone. But then faced with making changes things get difficult. Making changes to systems is complicated because everyone’s so busy, because they need permission from someone, because the budget isn’t there, because they don’t know what to do.

In the comments of the post, Tim points out that the majority of responses he’s received are from people (like myself) who already work on disability full-time. Part of the reason that disabled people are being ignored is that we haven’t been able to convince our colleagues to taking them on. The disability sector itself is responsible to promote mainstreaming of disability in development work. NGOs like ADD, and consultants like myself are already working on this.

I’m afraid my response to Tim is two follow-up questions. The first is to repeat the title question, which can be explored further: what are the things that stop people reaching the disabled even though there are so many good reasons to do so? And the second is what can we from the disability sector do about it? My hunch on the second one is that we can be doing a better job than we are now.

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