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How can the first Global Disability Summit be a catalyst for change?


Global Disability Summit

On 24th of July 2018, the UK government will co-host the first ever Global Disability Summit (GDS18) with the International Disability Alliance and the Government of Kenya. The Summit and preceding Civil Society Forum will form a major gathering of 700 activists, governments and companies from across the world. Delegates will discuss how to tackle stigma and discrimination, promote inclusive education, harness technology and innovation, and enable economic empowerment.

But how can an international event be a catalyst for tangible change that benefits the lives of disabled people around the world? In this joint blog from the University of York’s Interdisciplinary Global Development Centre and Development Pathways, we outline several ways in which we hope the Summit will make a meaningful contribution.

1. Bringing disability to the fore of the mainstream development agenda

The GDS18 represents another important milestone in the ‘internationalisation’ of the issue of disability. For far too long, disability has remained absent from the international discourse about development. As a case in point, consider that the United Nations Millennium Development Goals – which guided the actions of the global development community between 2000 and 2015 – made no mention at all of persons with disabilities.

The Sustainable Development Goals for 2030 partially rectify this critical omission, by urging governments to disaggregate data by characteristics associated with exclusion and vulnerability, including people’s disability status. Regional intergovernmental organisations, too, are starting to pay attention as evidenced by the Incheon Strategy in Asia and the Pacific or the African Union’s recent adoption of a Protocol that deals specifically with the rights of people with disabilities.

Such global recognition is important to help galvanise much needed funding streams for disability-inclusive development and because international actors and discourses play a key role in bringing the issue of disability to the fore of national policy makers too.

2. Identifying good practices and lessons learned

To date, 177 countries have ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) and are obliged to submit regular reports to its Committee on how the rights are being implemented. Moreover, investments to improve the availability of data are starting to pay off, with more and more national statistics agencies around the world adding questions on disability into their censuses and household surveys. As a result, there is a growing body of research on equity gaps and barriers to inclusion for persons with disabilities across a range of sectors. For example, it has been revealed that people with mental illness die on average 10-20 years earlier than the general population; this mortality gap is even higher in low- and middle-income countries.

However, there is a dearth of evidence on interventions and approaches that work to ensure that persons with disabilities have equal opportunities in life. The Summit provides a welcome opportunity to further identify national good practices and lessons learned on tackling discrimination and disability-inclusive programming. During ‘spotlight’ sessions, countries from around the world will demonstrate innovative approaches and good practices to address a range of challenges, such as removing physical barriers in infrastructure and removing stigma and taboo associated with sexual reproductive health and disability.

3. Highlighting neglected issues

The Summit also offers a platform to raise global attention for issues that are often neglected, even within the disability community. For example, disability benefits are rarely given prominence in discussions on social protection in low- and middle-income countries. A recent review by the ILO found that most countries only provide for disability benefits through contributory schemes, leaving children and adults with a disability outside the formal economy without protection.

Yet there is solid evidence – including from research by Development Pathways for DFID – that disability benefits play a critical role in enabling persons with disabilities to actively participate in mainstream education and work, supporting independent living, and helping to cover the additional costs of living with disabilities. It is encouraging, therefore, that the GDS18’s Charter for Change DFID is encouraging governments and organisations in the sector to sign-up to recognises the role of social protection in allowing persons with disabilities to be economically productive.

4. An opportunity for new partnerships and wider participation

The strategic involvement of tech companies such as Microsoft in the summit offers opportunities to help reduce disabling barriers in society through advances in accessibility software and the creation of more inclusive services for all. Technology, while not a panacea, can certainly help to increase inclusion, as highlighted by the initiative to use video to involve disabled children’s voices in the summit via the Me TOO video campaign. New partnerships between the tech sector and other sectors may also encourage a shift in the way inclusion is approached. The mainstreaming of assistive technology, for example, so that accessibility is integrated into the design of devices, apps and gadgets rather than being an ‘add-on’, is something that the tech sector is ahead of the curve on. By including a diverse range of disability representatives, the summit helps to recognise that disabled people face multiple struggles based on age, socioeconomic status, gender, nationality and other contextual and individual characteristics.


The GDS18 and the preceding Civil Society Forum are an opportunity to highlight disability as a critical component in the international development agenda. Successful inclusion of persons with disabilities and disability issues will require financial and resource investments by governments, donors and the private sector for disability-inclusive policies and programming. Effective monitoring mechanisms will highlight best practices, challenges and priorities. Intersectional and inclusive partnerships, with people living with disabilities at the centre, are vital in putting those affected at the centre of disability issues.

This blog is co-authored by Lauren Avery, Alan Msosa (Interdisciplinary Global Development Centre, University of York) and Bjorn Gelders (Development Pathways)


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