– DCDD’s First Exchange Session | ‘The Power of Disability Inclusion’

Poster of Power of Disability Inclusion session with speakers Shuaib Shalklen and Nidhi Goyal. As hosts: Jeroen Kelderhuis, Paulien Bruijn and Lieke Scheewe.

On February 1st, DCDD hosted a successful first Exchange Session on the ‘Power of Disability Inclusion’ with more than 50 participants from 11 different consortia! It was the first of a series of sessions, organised by DCDD in collaboration with the We Are Able! consortium and the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The aim is to explore the most effective ways to make disability inclusion happen within various civil society programmes that are receiving funding from the Ministry. These sessions are meant to facilitate the exchange of experience, share tools and resources and to make connections. 

The session started off with an inspirational welcome by Lieke Scheewe (DCDD) and Jeroen Kelderhuis of the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Kelderhuis mentioned the importance of ‘Leaving No One Behind’ and the Sustainable Development Goals, which emphasise the need for inclusive development. 

Inclusion needs to be intentional

The facilitator Paulien Bruijn (Into Inclusion) then initiated a discussion with guest speakers Nidhi Goyal (VOICE advisory board member & director of Rising Flame India) and Shuaib Chalklen (director of the African Disability Forum & We Are Able! partner). Different questions came up in the conversation, such as how persons with disabilities in all their diversity can be included within programmes, as well as the need for mainstreaming versus targeted support, and which terminology to use. Shuaib explained: “People with disabilities are the most marginalised and most excluded people in society. Inclusion is the way out of poverty. Therefore, barriers in society need to be recognised and removed to make inclusion happen. People with disabilities point out barriers that people without a disability do not automatically see.” That is why there is a need for Organisations of Persons with Disabilities (OPDs) to actively and meaningfully participate in development programmes, to move towards disability inclusion. “Inclusion in development programmes only happens when it is intentional“, Nidhi stated on the need for targeted action towards disability inclusion.

But where to start off when an organisation wants to become more inclusive of persons with disabilities? Nidhi stated that it begins with having the willingness to listen, interact and understand persons with disabilities.“We can’t have programmes about disabilities without engaging with people with disabilities”. Besides that it is important to shift mindsets: “Challenging mindsets means challenging ourselves on ableism.” In addition to changing mindsets, effective measures should be implemented to make disability inclusion work. Shuaib elaborated on empowerment of persons with disabilities and meaningful participation. “To a large extent, we can look at the We are Able! programme. … For instance, we have activities around research with the International Disability Alliance, this organisation [of persons with disabilities] leads the research. It is shifting responsibility to people with disabilities, that leads to full inclusion.” 

Nidhi gave another practical example: “What do we put on the registration form when we host a webinar? We want to create an inclusive platform. Then we need to make sure it is accessible. When we say gender, we can go beyond men and women and create space for respondents to specify how they identify. We also add a question about whether or not an accommodation such as sign language or image description is needed. Oftentimes people assume that an audience is non-disabled but creating that option on the form is an indication that the event will be inclusive.” 

An important topic that was raised by the Ministry was on a general inclusion strategy for all marginalised groups, versus a targeted disability inclusion strategy. Nidhi stated: “Often when we advocate for disability inclusion, people respond by saying: “we are not leaving anyone behind.” – But by nature of structural exclusion, we have been at a disadvantage. We cannot put together a bunch of organisations and say ‘marginalised groups’, without recognising their different needs for access.” Nidhi mentioned the presence of a sign language interpreter for example, which is there to achieve equity: “… Not having that specific provision or specific programming and policies does not work for people with disabilities. It does not naturally lead to inclusion. Inclusion needs to be extremely intentional. Besides that, … We make up 15% of the population, so we have to think about teams, budgets, hiring policies, etc., but we can also take a very simple step of thinking about communication. What about the use of imagery? [Without image description] you are automatically excluding those who are blind. If we put out imagery and they look very typically western-male or female, you are leaving out Indigenous ethnic groups, LGBTQIA+, etc. It is every little step that takes you ahead, to create a welcoming space.” 

Three levels of inclusion

To make disability inclusion happen, we need to look at 3 different levels, Paulien explained. First of all it starts at the individual level: “It is about your own attitudes towards the topic of disability inclusion. It’s important to work on individual mindsets either yourself or with people you’re working with in programmes.” Secondly, at organisational level we need to ensure that resources and systems are inclusive and that this inclusion is sustainable. And thirdly, systematic change is needed, so that that governments, policies and society at large become more inclusive. “If you work on inclusion in a development programme, it starts with involving persons with disabilities in the problem analysis and programme design. But it continues throughout the whole cycle”, states Paulien. So in order to fully commit to disability inclusion, awareness needs to be raised, barriers need to be removed and people with disabilities need to be participating as employees and/or partners in the programme.  

This was further discussed in breakout rooms, where participants had an exchange on the steps they have taken towards disability inclusion so far, and which steps they may want to take next in their programmes. Various overlapping needs, interests and connections were identified. While in some of the programmes disability is already part of the programme design, other programmes are just starting to think how to apply these insights. Participants showed enthusiasm to learn and exchange more, for example on how to organise accessible meetings, how to monitor inclusion, how to take an intersectional approach to disability and LGBTQI+ inclusion and how to be disability inclusive in grant making.

“It’s every little step that takes you ahead”

After the sessions, several tools and resources were shared with the group. In the next sessions we will dive deeper into the specific topics that came to the surface in the first session. In addition, training and advice on disability inclusive programming is available for programmes which are active in Uganda: Ambrose Murangira (Disability Inclusion Advisor – Light for the World) coordinates this on behalf of We Are Able!. Through a disability inclusion academy, youth with disabilities have been trained to become disability inclusion facilitators, who can guide organisations on their journey towards inclusion.

We are thankful for the positive energy the participants brought to this first session in the exchange series and very excited to take the next steps together. If you wish to receive more information on disability inclusion, please contact us at dcdd@dcdd.nl. And in case your organisation is part of a strategic partnership with the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs, you are welcome to join the next sessions!

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