Development, Government and governance, Social policy, Arts, culture & society | Australia, The Pacific

2 April 2015

In an era where inequality is one of the world’s biggest challenges, the success of the disability inclusive Development for All policy has been remarkable, writes Deborah Rhodes.

A decade ago, there were no mentions of disability in any Australian aid policy statements or strategies.  Any attempt to discuss the issue was met with the response ‘disability is a welfare issue, not a development issue.’

Today, there is recognition that people with disability have the right to participate and benefit from aid programs.  In fact, it seems that efforts to make the aid program disability inclusive have set new precedents in terms of the use of a rights-based approach, which had also been resisted by the previous aid bureaucracy for decades.

The Development for All strategy, first launched by the Australian Government in 2008 was an impressively constructed plan. It was the first of its kind in Australia and based on widespread participation by people with disabilities, their representative organisations and other interested specialists.

In retrospect, the power of this policy has been remarkable.  With an updated and more comprehensive policy expected to be released this month, those involved in disability-focused aid work and disability-inclusive development work are keen to build on what has already been achieved.  While so many other policies and programs have come and gone, the continuity of commitment in disability inclusion is commendable.

What has changed and what has this policy shift achieved?  Ten years ago, Pacific disabled people’s organisations (DPOs) were largely marginalised and excluded from participating in civil society events or processes, let alone government systems.

In Fiji, however, some highly skilled and committed individuals had been quietly participating in international disability movements and bringing new ideas back to the country.  One of these ideas was the rights-based approach, adopted by DPOs not only in Fiji but around the world.  This approach recognises that people with disability, like all people, have human rights to participate, to join groups and to access public spaces, information, employment and education among other things.

Once Fijians with disability began to recognise their own rights, after having been previously told their disability meant their voices were not valued, this generated a different sense of self.  With this new sense of self, emerging leaders related to others in different ways – asking for recognition and inclusion, for example.  The ground had shifted.

While this process was occurring in Fiji and beginning in other Pacific countries, some inspired leadership and very astute bureaucrats in Australia contributed to the crafting of Development for All. 

This new strategy has resulted in substantially raised awareness among aid workers at all levels about the rights of people with disability and a wide range of new approaches and activities internationally.  Coinciding with the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disability (CRPD) (2006) which has also raised the profile of the issue globally, Australia’s leadership on the issues of disability inclusive development has been widely commended.

Today, Australian aid programs need to demonstrate how they have consulted and included people with disability in their design and implementation.  Support is provided directly to DPOs such as Pacific Disability Forum to contribute to their capacity to participate in national and regional policy and development processes.  People with disability are leading advocacy on the international stage to ensure that disability rights are included in the new Sustainable Development Goals.

Combined, these changes are contributing to more disability inclusive societies globally.  In an era where inequality is clearly one of the globe’s biggest challenges, such a shift is noteworthy.

Many aid organisations have now begun to move past the ‘why?’ phase of this new idea.  In Australia, the potential for having the issue addressed across the full range of diplomatic engagements means the country’s leadership and contribution to improved results is increased.

The shift to working out how to implement the policy will occupy the minds of aid workers in Australia for years and at least they are increasingly aware that the voices of people with disability and their representative organisations must determine the priorities.  This, of course, is entirely consistent with the rights-based approach.

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