LONDON — The United Kingdom's new secretary of state for international development will announce on Thursday that the country is to host its first-ever Global Disability Summit in London in July 2018, bringing together governments, technology companies, and civil society to promote disability-inclusive development.
In her first public speech since taking over as head of the Department for International Development earlier this month, Penny Mordaunt will announce her plan to convene global leaders and technology companies next year to recognize that people with disabilities have been routinely excluded from development, and to find new ways of supporting them.
The announcement will be made at the “Solutions to Disability Inclusion” event, co-hosted by DFID and the NGO network Bond, and held at the head office of technology company Microsoft in London on Thursday afternoon.
In a statement released to the press ahead of the event, Mordaunt said she wants to “act now and break down the barriers people with all disabilities face in their everyday lives.”
“For too long, many people living with disabilities in the world’s poorest countries have not been able to fulfil their potential due to stigma or a lack of practical support,” she said, adding that “discrimination is unacceptable in today’s society.”
She also said that disability hinders economic growth, with DFID citing a study in Bangladesh that estimated $54 million is lost in earnings every year due people with disabilities not having the right support. This community is being “short-changed on opportunities to use their entrepreneurial spirit to help their countries prosper,” Mordaunt said.
Approximately 1 billion people live with some form of disability, and more than 80 percent of those live in developing countries. Advocates say that many face discrimination and stigma, have difficulty finding work, and often miss out when it comes to accessing basic services, including water and sanitation, education, and health. In response, seven of the Sustainable Development Goals explicitly refer to people with disabilities, and the issue is at the heart of the overarching call to “leave no one behind,” a move that disability activists heralded as a watershed moment.
Answering questions in Parliament on Wednesday morning, Mordaunt, who was minister for disabled people in the U.K. Department for Work and Pensions, described support for disability as a “subject very close to my heart.”
DFID has ramped up its focus on disability in recent years, publishing a disability framework in 2014 in response to an inquiry by the International Development Committee, which found the department urgently needed to step up its work on the issue. The framework was updated a year later to provide practical steps toward achieving disability-inclusive development.
Natasha Kennedy, Sightsavers’ head of multilateral engagement and campaigns, said the event will see DFID use its position as an “authority on disability inclusive development” to bring together and influence the organizations that it partners with globally. The NGO has been lobbying the U.K. government to step up its efforts through its Put Us In The Picture campaign.
“The U.K. government made a commitment to be the global leader in the neglected and under-prioritized area of inclusive development,” she said, adding that the summit could be a good way of deepening the U.K.’s commitment and of bringing other funders on board.
“It is imperative that this political momentum is not lost,” and that it is “translated into a bold vision for delivering disability inclusion that the U.K.’s partners and multilateral organizations … can commit to, implement, and monitor,” she said.
In a press release, DFID touted its existing work supporting disability inclusive development by funding “programmes which are proven to improve the lives of people with disabilities, including quality education, jobs and healthcare,” it said. This includes a project in Bangladesh to provide skills training and employment opportunities to garment workers with disabilities, and work in Uganda to enable children with disabilities to attend school.
The agency also funds technology solutions for disability-inclusive development, including U.S. nonprofit product development company D-Rev, which makes low-cost prosthetic knees for young adults in rural Africa and Asia.
Reflecting this focus on technology, Hugh Milward, senior director of corporate and external legal affairs at Microsoft, said in a statement released before the event: “Microsoft believes that technology can play a critical role in removing barriers and empowering people with disabilities … [and] these technologies enable governments and organisations to change the way they deliver services to their communities, customers and colleagues.”
Mordaunt’s speech comes a few days after her return from her first official overseas visit, where she spent time in a Rohingya refugee camp in Bangladesh and subsequently announced an additional 12 million pounds ($16 billion) in emergency funding to support the victims.
Read more Devex coverage on disability and inclusive development.