Innovating for inclusion

People with disabilities are being left behind in development, so we must test new ways to ensure they are included in programmes, in line with the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

April 2021

To mark the International Day of Creativity and Innovation to meet the Sustainable Development Goals, Inclusive Futures programme director Johannes Trimmel talks about the need to innovate and how our programmes are making this a priority.

“Innovation means making changes in something established, especially by introducing new methods, ideas or products.

To me, it is not always the sexy new thing – it’s also adapting well-known processes and attitudes in an area where, so far, they are not being looked at or considered.

The systems around health, education and employment are often rigid and individuals are forced to adapt to them. That can work well for the majority of the population, but not for a significant group of people. For Inclusive Futures, innovation is about changing systems so they are responding adequately to the needs of people with disabilities.

A headshot picture of a white man with brown hair and brown eyes, looking at the camera.

Johannes Trimmel

“We – the global development community – have made a commitment to help everybody. We cannot keep this promise for some people and not others. That’s why we need to innovate.

We think we are doing good work. But if we don’t include everyone – including people with disabilities – we are actually contributing to, and widening, the gap between people who get opportunities and those who don’t.

When we talk about development for all, that cannot just be a slogan. It’s not an accident that the political declaration on Agenda 2030 has a commitment to leaving no one behind and talks about reaching those furthest behind first. It’s a very strong political call.

But at the moment people with disabilities are not being included, so we need to find new ways to change how we all work.

That is why it’s important to innovate and include people with disabilities.

DPO representatives at Sightsavers organised advocacy training for local partners involved in the Inclusion Works programme

Examples of how we’re innovating

Partnering with organisations of people with disabilities

We work in partnership with organisations of people with disabilities (OPDs). Although we’re far from perfect, we’re partnering at a much higher level than I have seen in many other programmes.

It’s more than just consultation: OPDs are central to projects in the planning, design, and delivery stages. Most significantly, we choose to put people with disabilities at the centre of programme design in country to meet the needs expressed by OPDs instead of building on existing programmes.

In our response to COVID-19 in Bangladesh, OPD representatives led a lot of the implementation. This built relationships with the local authorities who didn’t see a programme created for people with disabilities, but one driven by them. That relationship with local authorities is the foundation for OPDs to be involved in decision making in the future.

Systemic change

Our work focuses on how we change the systems around work, education and healthcare to make them inclusive of people with disabilities.

For example, our education projects are working to change school systems to make them inclusive. In Tanzania, we are working with government, disability and education actors to create a model of quality inclusive, pre-primary and primary education that is tested, costed and collectively supported. In Nigeria, we’re making primary education inclusive by developing innovative and scalable strategies for schools and teacher training. And in Kenya, we’re trialing an innovative new assessment tool that enables support workers to quickly, easily and reliably identify the needs of children with disabilities is being.

Making existing programmes inclusive

This isn’t just about adding people with disabilities to existing programmes, but making sure they’re included systematically – for example, taking a vocational youth training programme in Bangladesh and testing how to make it inclusive for young people with disabilities. We’re also adapting an existing programme, which provides young people at risk of poverty and exploitation with training and experience to work in hospitality, to be inclusive of people with disabilities.

We’re working with training suppliers, supporting them to adapt their soft skills training and IT academies to be inclusive of people with disabilities.

And in business, we’re working to make companies inclusive of people with disabilities, both in their offices and their supply chains.

Testing new ideas

As well as testing out existing ideas in new contexts and countries, some of our work involves new approaches.

For example, in Nigeria we have partnered with the Chartered Institute of Personnel Managers to provide mentors to jobseekers with disabilities and support them through job searches and recruitment processes. The initiative is being scaled up in Kenya and Uganda.

In Bangladesh and Kenya, we are developing technology which will be used by people with intellectual disabilities to share their stories advocate to the government for better inclusion of people with disabilities.

A woman leans on crutches as she feeds a cow.
© East African Breweries Limited

“Development donors and implementers should care about Inclusive Futures, because what we learn will support you to embed disability inclusion in your own work.

Inclusive Futures is not only delivering tangible outcomes to improve the lives of people with disabilities, but also generating an evidence base on ‘what works’ to deliver disability inclusive development.

What we learn will support donors and implementers to embed disability inclusion in their own work.

To ensure this, the set-up of our consortium is very diverse. We have organisations focusing on disability and development, mainstream organisations with no specific programmes on disability inclusion, academic institutions, and the International Disability Alliance, a global network of OPDs.

This is important because single development actor has all the answers. Coalitions and collaboration bring new and creative ideas, innovation, better results and opportunities through pooled ideas, skills and resources.

The set up of the consortium also means that the learning we generate undergoes a lot of reflection and validation. We’re not just saying, “We know this is right, and you’re not doing the right things.” Our learning also considers where organisations stand, where pressures from a donor come in, and so on. So, what we do is realistic – everyone can learn from it.

I think the strongest argument is still the one that adapting a set up system is always much more costly and difficult then setting it up inclusively from the beginning.

Simply overlooking disability at the start is not an excuse that we should allow any longer. We must be inclusive.

Evidence and resources

What we've learnt about how to ensure people with disabilities are not left behind in work, healthcare or education, and how to tackle negative stereotyping and discrimination.