Imagine you want to go to school but the classrooms are on the second floor and you can’t get up the stairs. Perhaps instead you decide to look for a job. What if your potential employers think that you don’t have anything to contribute to their business? Maybe you are passionate about making a difference in your country, but what if no-one understood you when you spoke and after a while the people around you stopped listening? These are the types of barriers that people with disability face every day in developing countries. The challenges vary from country to country, as do the needs of each of the people our programs reach.
Australian volunteers have an important role to play in enabling people with disabilities to fulfil their potential. That is why I am pleased to introduce this edition of the Returned Australian Volunteer Network e-newsletter, which features volunteers who have been on assignments which work with people with disabilities to improve their quality of life. All assignments have scope to be more inclusive, whether you are working with a government ministry on education policy, a NGO to provide access to water, sanitation and hygiene, or a UN agency on disaster risk reduction.
Inclusive development is effective development. People with disability are the world’s largest and most disadvantaged minority, accounting for about 15 per cent of the global population. They are disproportionately represented among the poorest people. If our development efforts are not reaching people with disabilities, we are falling short.
In May last year, the Minister for Foreign Affairs, the Hon. Julie Bishop MP, released Development for All 2015-2020: Strategy for strengthening disability-inclusive development in Australia’s aid program. The strategy recognises that if we fail to account for the needs of people with disabilities we seriously undermine our efforts to drive inclusive and sustainable economic growth. It supports our commitments under the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.
We have made progress. Our recent efforts included a focus on mainstreaming the rights of persons with disabilities within the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. People with disabilities are explicitly mentioned in five of the Sustainable Development Goals and seven of the associated targets. As countries implement and monitor these goals, Australia is supporting work to strengthen internationally comparable disability data collection and analysis. This is so that people with disabilities are visible in the global development agenda, so that we can work towards the aim of ‘leaving no-one behind’. But we still have a long way to go.
People with disabilities want what everyone wants—an education, employment, a chance to be part of their community—and they have a right to these things. We are committed to supporting people with disabilities in developing countries to advocate for their right to have access to the same opportunities as others and an equal say in the decisions that affect their communities.
As a returned volunteer, you have had the opportunity to change some of the negative perceptions that people with disabilities often face. You influenced attitudes, awareness and development practice among your local counterparts, host organisations, and the broader communities in which you lived and worked.
I encourage you to continue seeking opportunities to support disability-inclusive development. Your efforts have and will continue to move us closer towards our ultimate goal – of contributing to real change for the better in the daily experiences of people with disabilities.
Disability Section, DFAT