On July 7th, DCDD hosted an Exchange Session on ‘Disability Inclusion at Organisational Level’ with participants from several different consortia. It was the third 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 of these sessions 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 experiences, tools and resources.

We were happy to host this live meeting in The Hague Tech, where we talked about how to prioritise action for disability inclusion at organisational level. The session was kicked off with a word of welcome by Lieke Scheewe (DCDD) and Marinka Wijngaard of the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Marinka Wijngaard highlighted how gender equality and inclusion are cross-cutting themes for the Ministry and how important it is that more and more programs have a specific inclusion lens for this group.

How inclusive are we as organisations?

Based on 11-years of working experience in the development sector as a wheelchair-user, Lieke shared her personal reflections: “When I applied for my job 11 years ago, SeeYou was specifically looking to make their organisation more diverse and inclusive. They adapted their recruitment procedure and made their office accessible. Accessibility and inclusion are still the exception, rather than the norm, so if you want to become more inclusive as an organisation you need to be intentional about it. And also be ready to go through some of the inevitable awkwardness of such a change process.“ To the question why this is an important process for organisations, Lieke responded: “We all claim to work through a rights-based approach. Rights are for everyone, so I’d rather skip the ‘why’ part and go straight to the ‘how’.”

The facilitator Paulien Bruijn (Into Inclusion) then introduced guest speaker Karen Kraan (Mama Cash) to share what motivated Mama Cash to start an intensive disability mainstreaming process within the organization recently: “Working inclusively has always been at the core of what we do, as our founders were a diverse group of feminists”, Karen stated.“Although we got it in our DNA, we realised we still really need to do better.” When they saw an opportunity for funding of this process,  they took a deep dive and embarked on a yearlong anti-disablism trajectory with an external consultancy.

What does it mean to be a disability inclusive organisation?

Most importantly, always work from a rights-based approach and include meaningful participation and representation of persons with disabilities at all levels and in all processes. This should then lead to the identification and removal of barriers as well as anchoring disability in all systems and structures of the organisation. For this, don’t only think of physical or representational aspects, but also ask questions like, is our communication inclusive and do we use a rights-based language, and, do we have a budget for reasonable accommodation and do we use it? As one of the attendees added, “It’s about equity, not equality,” so making sure that everyone is enabled to participate on an equal basis with others.

Everyone was then invited to do a short exercise on how disability inclusive their organisation is through the Disability Inclusion Scored Card, a self-assessment and monitoring tool for NGOs who want to become more disability inclusive. Its aim is to support the organizational change process and it’s a great way to start the conversation on the topic. “It’s not about the scores, but about getting the dialogue and process going”, Lieke emphasised. A quick tryout with the score card already gave some first insights amongst all participants. “Doing such a scorecard makes you realise we still have a very long way to go”, one noted. It was also said that “we tend to focus on the most visible form of accessibility, but it goes further than that” and that it “helps to expand my view on inclusion”.

Learning from Mama Cash

Karen then talked more about the process Mama Cash followed in becoming a more disability inclusive organisation. “What we wanted is to have much more awareness and tools and a clear way forward.” They started with a thorough scan in all different facets of the organisation which was followed by three all-staff sessions and multiple team sessions. “It’s really important to have the management team on board and have it led from the top – while also adding that it needs to be anchored among staff”, Karen stated. These steps resulted in a report with both long- and short term recommendations, which are now being unpacked into an action plan with project ownership moving forward. Karen shared some words of encouragement from their lessons learnt: “Don’t spend too much time on thinking about what you’re going to do. Just start. And go deep and wide. Use a wide lens when you look at disability and the definition of disability, and go wide in terms of your organisation and the areas you are looking at.” When asked about the challenges they came across, Karen answered that “we anticipated a lot of challenges, but it turned out pretty well … and I wouldn’t say we had a big challenge.” Also, some questions were asked on budgeting for inclusivity. “Changing your mindset is free … but it is important to allocate time for people to work on it. And time is money.” Usually 2 to 5% of the total budget is needed for being inclusive and having reasonable accommodation within programme budget lines. “Inclusion should be included in the programmes, so it’s automatically budgeted for.” Karen concluded by encouraging to look for the low hanging fruits. “Like using the automated captions in Zoom, getting a very simple ramp for the office building or making the text size on your website more accessible.”

Action planning for inclusion

All attendees were asked to think about action commitments to start or further strengthen the disability inclusion process within their own organisation or consortium. Some outcomes here were to also involve your foreign partners in this process, use sign language as one of the used languages and include questions on the need for any accommodation in training- or event registries.

Lieke shared some final thoughts on today’s session. “Though there’s still a lot do, we’ve made progress in the sector of international cooperation. Keep thinking about the low hanging fruits, because they are always there when you open your eyes to them.” Marinka then added to also “not forgot about the high hanging fruit, which costs money and takes effort, but is what we should do.”

We look back at another inspiring exchange session of this series. If you want to know more about this topic, feel free to 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!

For more resources on Disability Inclusion at Organisation Level that were shared during this session, see these resources:

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