Outreach International’s ultimate goal is sustainable development. And to truly achieve this goal, development must include every member of a community. This means that every individual has equal access to resources, opportunities, and community-led programs that are the result of successful development projects. It’s often the case however that individuals with disabilities face significant barriers to inclusion in community development efforts. This leads to underrepresentation and relatively less benefit among those living in poverty.
In this blog post, we will explore the importance of disability inclusion in community-led development, the challenges faced by people with disabilities, and practical tactics Outreach implements to promote inclusion at both the institutional and community levels.
Understanding Disability Inclusion
It’s easy to consider that diversity, equity, and inclusion are crucial components of any enlightened society. And it’s important to remember that this must include disability inclusion. This is a vital aspect of overall social diversity. And, the first step is to have a clear understanding of what disability inclusion truly means. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a disability is any condition, whether physical or cognitive, that makes it more challenging than the norm for an individual to engage in certain activities and interact with the world around them.
Disability inclusion goes beyond recognizing disabilities. It involves ensuring that everyone has the same opportunities to participate in every aspect of life to the best of their abilities and desires. It means including people with disabilities in activities and encouraging them to have roles similar to their peers who do not have disabilities. This includes participation and indeed leadership in community groups and their development projects.
The Diversity of Disabilities
It’s important to acknowledge that the term “people with disabilities” encompasses a diverse group of individuals with a wide range of needs, talents, and abilities. Disabilities can manifest in any number of ways. They affect functions such as vision, hearing, movement, reasoning, remembering, learning, communicating, as well as emotional health and interpersonal relationships. Disabilities can be visible, like physical impairments, or invisible, such as cognitive challenges.
Challenges Faced by People with Disabilities
Despite the diversity within the overall term “disability,” several common challenges impact the inclusion of people with disabilities in community-led development work:
- Stigma, discrimination, marginalization, and poor treatment of people with disabilities.
- Lack of awareness and understanding of disabilities, both physical and cognitive.
- Preconceived notions about the abilities and competencies of those with disabilities.
- Myths about disability, often perpetuated because of limited access to information.
- Barriers to access for people with disabilities due to construction practices or poor structure conditions. This can prevent access to sanitation facilities and meeting places, and limit access to technology, education, and income opportunities.
- Limited support systems for the rights of people with disabilities.
- Low self-esteem among people with disabilities due to living with these barriers, leading to reluctance to participate.
- Gender disparities, with women with disabilities facing additional challenges, such as denial of marriage and limited access to resources.
The Global Reality of Disabilities
Obtaining an exact count of people with disabilities globally is challenging because of varying definitions within different cultures and the diversity of disabilities within a culture. However, data from the World Report on Disability and other reliable sources provide insight:
- An estimated 1 billion people, or 15% of the global population, have a disability (WHO).
- The disability rate is higher among females (19.2%) than males (12%).
- Global literacy rates are as low as 3% for all adults with disabilities, and 1% for women with disabilities.
- One in five people who live with an income of $1 a day or less has a disability (DFID). This is well below the current definition of the worldwide poverty line, set at $1.90 per day.
- Children with disabilities are more than twice as likely as others to not attend school.
- Women and girls with disabilities are three times more likely to experience gender-based violence.
- Currently, there are approximately 200 million children with disabilities worldwide, with roughly five million of them living in low and middle-income countries.
Why Disability Inclusion Matters
Intentional inclusion of people with disabilities is not just a moral imperative. It’s a strategic decision that can lead to more effective and sustainable community-led development. When people with disabilities are actively included, their unique skills and perspectives can drive innovation and growth, benefiting the entire community. They have the right to participate in decisions that affect their lives, and their inclusion leads to better outcomes for everyone.
Inclusivity in general should be the cornerstone of any community-led development program, ensuring that all individuals affected play a part in the process. When community-led development work is inclusive, not only does the outcome benefit all, but the power of agency becomes accessible to all, leading to better future outcomes.
Practical Tactics for Disability Inclusion
Promoting disability inclusion requires intentionality and action. Outreach International program partner teams are trained in integrating disability inclusion into Participatory Human Development facilitation through a deep understanding of key aspects and use their expertise in the following ways:
At the Institutional Level:
- Educate: Facilitate learning about disabilities and the development of strategies for disability inclusion.
- Intentional Action: Make inclusion a deliberate action from the very beginning stages of any community development program rather than an afterthought to attempt to fit in at the end.
- Welcoming Attitude: Create an open environment for people with different abilities to participate as equals who feel heard, understood, and empowered to improve their own lives and the lives of those around them.
- Incorporate Inclusion in Planning & Social Investigation: Identify groups or individuals with disabilities within communities and plan the workflow accordingly.
- Locate Potential Resources: Connect people with disabilities to local support systems tailored specifically for their benefit.
- Share with and Learn from Others: Collaborate with other organizations to share and learn about successful strategies and practices, and resource institutions.
At the Community Level:
- Educate and Sensitize: Raise awareness about rights, visibility, and inclusion within the community.
- Integrate: Include people with disabilities in community activities.
- Listen: Encourage individuals with disabilities to share their experiences and promote support and understanding.
- Provide Access: Ensure meetings and events are accessible to all.
- Create Policies: Advocate for community-based organizations to adopt inclusive rules and guidelines.
- Open the Decision-making Process: Understand that individuals with disabilities have as much right as others to participate in the decisions that affect their lives.
Disability Inclusion in Action
Clementina from Zambia was born with limited use of her legs. Despite this challenge, she’s a dedicated teacher, tailor, and respected community leader. When COVID-19 health mandates required face masks in Zambia, she organized a group of women to sew and sell masks at an affordable rate. They then reinvested the income from sales to grow their business. And on top of that, after three years of volunteer teaching, Clementina received the “Most Hardworking Teacher” award by the Zambia Ministry of Education in 2021. Her hard work, leadership, and brilliant problem-solving skills have lifted her organization to new heights of success that will benefit her entire community well into the next generation.
Naika from Kunjabadi Village in India lost his leg in a road accident in 2016. This left him unable to work and dependent on his wife, who performs seasonal labor in agriculture and construction, earning $1.25 per day. Even when she works full days, this leaves them well below the poverty line. With support from Outreach India, Naika prepared documentation, visited government offices, and accessed a disability certificate. This made him eligible for a pension assistance program, providing him and his wife with an additional $6.41 per month. Though this is not a great deal of income, it covers a majority of their grocery needs, like rice, oil, and vegetables. Through this experience, Naika found, in his own words, “some hope for living,” and is a perfect example of the success that can be achieved through community-led development.
Disability inclusion is not just an ideal to imagine. It’s an actionable goal that can lead to better, more effective community-led development and stronger, closer-knit communities. By intentionally including people with disabilities, just as we would embrace any kind of diversity, we can maximize our potential for innovation, growth, and progress. When everyone participates, everyone benefits.