November 2, 2023

Disability Equity and Rights Strategy - what's critical for effectiveness?

Yesterday, DFAT announced that public consultations for its new International Disability Equity and Rights Strategy have commenced. And there’s a lot to achieve.

The new development policy points to disability inclusion as a key focus of the program, referenced in the forewords of both Ministers and featured throughout the document. Australia has often identified as a leader in this space – but after inconsistent core budget allocations and the devastating effects of the pandemic, translating this ambition into reality could be a tough task.

This week, we asked the experts what the key to effectiveness will be in the new strategy as drafting gets underway. Here’s what they said.

Jane Edge
Chief Executive Officer, CBM Australia

DFAT’s new Disability Equity and Rights strategy is an important opportunity to shift the dial toward significant and systemic change for people with disabilities in our region and beyond. Make no mistake, that dial does need to shift. People with disabilities form the largest minority group in the world and are, without fail, among the most marginalised in any context. The COVID-19 pandemic has been described as a catastrophic global failure to protect the rights of persons with disabilities. The growing climate crisis and ongoing economic upheaval will further compound this failure and its very real impacts on the lives of the one billion people living with disabilities in low and middle-income countries.

Too often, I’ve heard from colleagues in the disability movement that while Australia’s intentions on disability inclusive development are good, there is not enough resourcing to lift those commitments off the page and out of Canberra, to achieve systematic on-the-ground impact. The new strategy requires that significant financial and human resources be focused on delivering disability equity. And it must include both the carrot and the stick of funding requirements and targets to translate commitments into outcomes.

Crucially, authentic partnership with the people with disability and their representative organisations must be foundational for disability equity and rights to be realised. Authentic partnership requires core and stable support to build capacity, listening and acting on what’s heard, and putting engagement and accessibility first through development processes.

Jane is the CEO of CBM Australia, a leading NGO working to support people with disabilities living in poverty, and a Board Member of both ACFID and Mercy Health Australia. Jane has worked extensively in high impact roles focused on supporting positive change and sustainable development and strives to create a more equitable and inhabitable world for all. Voices and experience like Jane’s are crucial, and at the Lab we’re grateful she takes the time to share hers.

Georgina Naigulevu
Associate Director - Disability, Inclusion, Justice and Transformation, Tetra Tech International Development

To be effective, it is critical that there is collective, committed effort by all people to promote inclusion and diversity and ensure that this strategy is accountable, intersectional, and grounded in the lived experiences of people with disabilities.

Firstly, accountable strategy should go beyond legal compliance and address the root causes of disability discrimination. It should also prioritize the needs and support of lived experiences from persons with disabilities to reflect the right to participation in the development of policy and practices for social change in the organization and society. In practice, organizations looking to carry forward the ambitions of the strategy should engage with their local Organizations of Persons with Disability to co-develop their own entity accountability framework tools, drawing on best practice like the United Nationals Disability Inclusion Strategy.

Secondly, an intersectional approach means recognizing that people with disabilities face multiple forms of discrimination based on their race, gender, sexuality, and other identities and addressing these intersecting forms of oppression. Naming this in a strategy is easy but taking it forward in practice is hard. For example, Fiji has labour legislation with a provision for employment of persons with a disability, but organisations struggle to uphold this when ‘providing reasonable accommodation and accessibility measures’ means that they must consider the specific needs and preferences of different people with different disabilities.

Finally, any disability equity and rights strategy must be grounded in lived experience. This means engaging with disabled people at all stages of the strategy’s implementation. It also means prioritizing the voices of persons with disabilities who are often excluded from decision-making processes. Preparing the strategy is one thing, but effectively translating it into action requires genuine consultation with persons with disability to learn and co-design practical solutions. Check out this example from the pandemic to see a great instance of Government engaging with disabled people to meaningfully shape strategy formulation and implementation.

Gina is an international development practitioner and tech expert with over 20 years of experience working across digital health, ICT, and innovation spaces. A small testament to her breadth of achievements as a Rotuman woman with a disability, Gina co-founded a community app in partnership with the Fiji Disabled Peoples Federation that locates facilities on the roads and footpaths in Suva which are accessible for persons with disabilities. Gina’s combined expertise, insights, and lived experience is exactly what the Lab believes should shape policy strategy.

Ben Clare
Disability Inclusion Lead and Board Member, Exemplar International, and Producer, Australian Broadcasting Corporation

With DFAT currently consulting on the latest Disability Equity and Rights Strategy, I was asked to address the question of what is critical to making this new strategy effective.

I believe the key to maximum positive and sustainable impact and effectiveness is a strategy developed in a way that is:

  • Consultative: seeking diverse views and truly listening;
  • Reflective: capturing the needs and aspirations of the disability community in Australia and where the development program works internationally;
  • Targeted: including bold targets that break down barriers to inclusion;
  • Pre-emptive: or at least reactive to risks, shocks and situations that undermine improvements to human rights and access to essential services;
  • Cross-cutting: looking at ways to include people with disability in all aspects of Australia's International development program;
  • Equal: creating partnerships with local leaders and organisations in partner countries that are based on equality to allow for truly sustainable change; and
  • Adherent to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and Australia's obligations under the Optional Protocol.

With the above achieved, this strategy has every chance of effectiveness. Once underway, delivery of the strategy must first focus on human rights-based initiatives, and physical access to services and assistive equipment to enable full participation in society free of barriers.

Ben wears many hats - in addition to his roles at ABC and Exemplar International, he is also a board member of the International Development Contractors Community and the Australian Disability and Development Consortium. He has a long association with international development, having worked extensively across the Pacific to improve inclusive education, information technology, and disability service providers. At the Lab we deeply value Ben’s passion for providing both practical support to people with a disability and working for systemic change.

Read more