In 2018, the government of Kenya co-hosted the first global disability summit with the government of United Kingdom (UK) in London. This was hailed as the biggest meet-up around disability agenda bringing together governments, development organizations, business entities, organizations of persons with disabilities (OPDs) and their allies that led to commitments meant to advance the rights of persons with disabilities globally.
Four years down the line, you can read about the progress made on these commitments here to make sense of what has happened since then through self-reporting by various stakeholders who were party to these commitments.
On 16th and 17th February 2022, the governments of Ghana and Norway will be co-hosting the 2nd Global Disability Summit as a follow up to the London event that registered a high participation. The summit is being held virtually due to the restrictions brought about by the Covid-19 pandemic that has again proved how vulnerable persons with disabilities are to such pandemics given the fact that; majority of the initial responses to the pandemic left behind those with disabilities with an automatic designation as “collateral damage”.
The talk on everyone`s lips is GDS2022 and the “big” commitments thereof, I am alive to the fact that this meeting provides a great opportunity for stakeholders to take stalk of progress made so far, renew commitments or make new ones that helps us further enjoyment of rights for disabled people globally.
My reflections are therefore not meant to spoil the party, but ground us in the reality that we need to be mindful of whose name we are making promises as we go on with the business of making commitments to advance the rights of disabled people.
I read a section of disability inclusion report prepared by the Government of Kenya and one of the highlight was about how Kenya adopted the use of Washington Group of questions during the 2019 census to capture statistics on disabled people. My worry with this self-reporting was the lack of appreciation of the challenges faced in that exercise where the adoption of this set of questions without proper training of enumerators led to many disabled people not being counted and the disability community in Kenya has largely disputed and protested the final numbers ( 0.9 million) given out to represent the total population of disabled people in Kenya.
Disability inclusion without the direct involvement of disabled people is not the shifting power stuff we are talking about, key global disability organizations, governments, initiatives , philanthropies and donor agencies working on disability rights are yet to recognize the power of lived-experience and professional representation within their leadership ranks and thus continue making decisions around disability rights issues without the participation of disabled people who could make important strategic inputs in moving forward the disability inclusion agenda.
Failing to include disabled people within our leadership ranks is a clear indication that we don’t trust them to lead and holding a million summits to make a million commitments will not change anything until we move it to action and do the right thing- Include them period!
I have come across two major inclusive employment projects funded bilaterally, what struck me the most was the fact that; while these projects are all about accelerating employment of disabled people, as a matter of principle they would have considered a sizeable number of employees to come from the disability fraternity but the opposite is actually true. With millions of dollars at disposal, you will find only 1-2 maximum representation of disabled employees in both projects combined ! I would assume that these projects don’t equally trust disabled people to have the requisite competencies to advocate on their own behalf. So I pose the question, do we need a summit to change this?
We all know that for the disability agenda to remain alive in our various countries, we must have strong and agile OPDs. This requires adequate resourcing and organizational development support. There is no other way to solve the challenges facing OPDs from weak leadership, lack of strategic focus and long-term planning than investing in these organizations through unrestricted funding. Those in charge of providing funding must eliminate their bias and begin to take big bets on these organizations through multi-year funding with less reporting requirements to allow them focus on doing the job for which they are founded to do and not filling questionnaires after every month and not being able to know whether they can keep a staff for atleast three years!
If these summits can have a semblance of success, then some of the questions on the table must be:
How do we fund OPDs directly and avoid cutting corners wasting valuable resources?
Who benefits from the resources allocated to advance disability rights globally?
How do we correct the imbalance between INGOs and OPDs in resource allocation where OPDs gets to do the hard work and the INGO takes the money?
Is our work on disability rights informed by the priorities and needs felt by disabled people themselves or is it an academic pursuits?
How can we be support leadership development across OPDs?
Who is including who?
If we cannot attempt responding to these questions and many more, I am afraid we risk turning the global disability summit into talkshop. We have enough talkshops around that we didn’t need a disability-specific one. What we need is to see ACTIONS on the commitments made and not a mere ticking the box-kind of exercise.
These commitments MUST be followed by action plans backed with RESOURCES to breathe life into them otherwise, we might as well start planning for the Global Disability Summit 2026 immediately this one ends!
Have an action-oriented summit!
The writer is a disability inclusion specialist