Disability is not just the social agenda. It closely links and intersects with civil, political, economic, and cultural rights. Therefore, the global disability rights movement and human rights activists define disability as both human rights and development agenda. However, disability is the least discussed and prioritized agenda in development and human rights phenomena even at present. Due to this, about a billion people (15 percent of the total population) who are living with some form of disability are still not recognized as equal citizens. They are being treated inhumanely. They are stigmatized in private and public spheres. They are not counted as active contributors. Instead they are always treated as passive recipients through the charity-based approach.
Despite all these facts, the global disability rights movement has taken momentum. The movement made a landmark achievement with the promulgation of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in 2006. Since then, there has been a paradigm shift in terms of understanding and defining disability from a human rights-based approach. This Convention has essentially given the true spirit of being human to people with disabilities. Therefore, a billion people with disabilities across the globe strongly demand meaningful participation in all the agenda that matters to them directly or indirectly.
Nepal is the state party of this Convention. Therefore, the government of Nepal has an obligation to comply with it. The Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities has given a number of concluding observations to the Government of Nepal in 2018 to ensure the rights of persons with disabilities on an equal basis with others. However, there have not been significant changes in the lives of persons with disabilities except in some policies. Though the Government of Nepal has made its political commitments toward achieving the current 2030 agenda for sustainable development, its targeted interventions with budget allocation remain insignificant. The key reason behind this gap is the lack of understanding of disability from the human rights perspective and not applying the right approach to disability inclusion.
Disability is not a homogenous group. There is diversity among persons with disabilities based on their caste, ethnicity, impairment, sex, race, geographical origins etc. The persons with disabilities from Dalits, indigenous, Madhesi, and LGBTIQ+communities including other minorities have faced more challenges and barriers because of their intersecting forms of multiple identities. Their situation is worse than others’.
Nepal has concluded elections for all three spheres of government–local, provincial and federal levels. The new government is yet to be formed at provincial and federal levels. The newly elected representatives should apply the most appropriate development approaches that include all, leaving no one behind in order to address the people’s aspirations.
Disability-inclusive development is an overarching development approach that ensures the meaningful participation of persons with disabilities in all stages of the development work. The disability-inclusive development approach is underpinned by key human rights principles and founded on the general principles of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. Therefore, the current decentralized forms of governance have a larger scope to ensure the meaningful participation of all. The disability-inclusive development approach removes all barriers–attitudinal, institutional, environmental, and communication.
Disability-inclusive development has some key elements to promote disability inclusion from grassroots to national development interventions. Some of these disability-inclusive development elements are participation, awareness, accessibility and universal design, twin-track approach, empowerment and gender equality. These elements center on persons with disabilities and their represented organizations in all stages.
Since the majority of duty bearers at local levels are still found unaware of the disability agenda, it is imperative to create wider awareness of disability from a human rights-based approach as disability is a subject but not an object. Similarly, the duty bearers have to be sensitized and capacitated to ensure the participation of persons with disabilities and their represented organization as they are the active contributors to the development work but not the passive recipients.
Accessibility is a prerequisite for persons with disabilities to enjoy their human rights on an equal basis with others. Therefore, ensuring accessibility by applying universal design principles to address the diverse abilities of all users’ communities is a must for achieving the goal of inclusive development. All three layers of government and development actors should apply the twin-track approach in their work to promote disability inclusion. The targeted disability-specific interventions are most required to empower persons with disabilities and their represented organizations. In the meantime, disability mainstreaming measures are equally important to ensure the inclusiveness of persons with disabilities in development interventions. Therefore, both measures are crucial for achieving disability-inclusive development.
Persons with disabilities are the experts of their own agenda. They have their own lived experiences. Hence, the investment of development actors and government in building the capacities of persons with disabilities and their representative organizations should take this fact into account. The government has to recognize the potential of persons with disabilities by creating an enabling, safe, accessible, and resilient environment where they can use their full potential on an equal basis with others. The development actors and organizations of persons with disabilities should come up with transformative solutions for disability-inclusive development so that these fuel innovations to create a more accessible and equitable world.
Then the disability-inclusive development approach will contribute to achieving the aspirations of leaving no one behind.
Krishna Gahatraj is a disability inclusive development expert.