The United Nations estimates that some 600 million people worldwide have a disability and that the vast majority of disabled people live in low and middle income countries. For decades the international disability movement has been saying that disability is a cause of poverty - that poverty often leads to disability and that disabled people are among the poorest of the poor in any country. However, it is only recently that a solid platform has been found from which to advance this argument - the UN’s Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) for poverty reduction.
As James Wolfensohn, former president of the World Bank, stated, “Unless disabled people are brought into the development mainstream, it will be impossible to cut poverty in half by 2015 or to give every girl and boy the chance to achieve a primary education by that same date.” Unfortunately, disability has not yet found its place within the MDGs. It is not specifically mentioned in any of the eight MDGs, the 18 targets set out to achieve these goals, or the 48 indicators for monitoring their progress.
The innovative Disability Knowledge and Research (Disability KaR) programme, funded by DFID, found ample evidence that poverty, impairment and disability were interconnected. The programme held roundtable events in Malawi, India, and Cambodia which brought together disabled people, organisations working in disability practice on the ground and policy makers. The programme found that:
- disabled people are typically among the very poorest - they experience poverty more intensely and have fewer opportunities to escape poverty than non-disabled people
- disabled people are largely invisible - are ignored and excluded from mainstream development
- disability cuts across all societies and groups. The poorest and most marginalised are at the greatest risk of disability
- disabled people have few opportunities to influence decisions on the policies and services that affect them. As a result, their rights and needs remain unrecognised. As one participant in the Indian roundtable forum put it, “I am disabled, but not helpless”
- efforts to reduce poverty and tackle social exclusion will not be effective, unless they make specific efforts to address disability issues
The research makes it clear that disability issues need to be addressed in order make a significant positive impact on the lives of poor disabled people in developing countries and provides evidence that bringing the rights and needs of disabled people within the MDGs is key to cutting poverty in half by 2015.