LONDON — United Kingdom Secretary of State for International Development Penny Mordaunt will make two announcements on disability and inclusion on Wednesday, as the issue emerges as a priority of her leadership agenda. At an event in Parliament co-hosted by Handicap International on Wednesday evening, Mordaunt — who is three months into the job — will announce that inclusion “will be a key theme” of the upcoming Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting in April.
She will also reveal more details around the U.K. government’s first World Disability Summit, to be hosted in London’s Olympic Park on July 24. The event will emphasize the need to collect more data around disability, with commitments expected from both the public and private sector, including the World Bank.
“People with disabilities suffer appalling and entrenched stigma and discrimination, and in many parts of the world they simply don’t count,” Mordaunt will say in her speech.
The new head of the United Kingdom's Department for International Development has pledged to put disability "at the heart" of everything it does in her first public speech since taking the role. Advocates welcomed the commitment but warned that DFID will need to be careful about how it approaches the complex issue. Devex spoke to insiders to find out what they want to see prioritized.
The secretary of state will detail how data, technology, and collaboration are vital in making sure that people with disabilities are consistently included in, and benefit from, the opportunities that are available to other members of society. Mordaunt was previously minister for disabled people, health and work before taking up her role with DFID, and has demonstrated a commitment to bringing the issue to her work in development.
In developing countries, unemployment rates for people with disabilities are on average 80 percent or higher. Of those who need assistive devices such as prosthetic limbs, between 5 and 15 percent have access to them, according to figures from Handicap International.
“This [exclusion] cannot continue, which is why I have put disability at the heart of U.K. aid to make those invisible visible,” Mordaunt will say.
As part of that, the upcoming Disability Summit aims to bring together the private sector, technology companies, international governments, and charities to “secure ambitious commitments which will deliver a significant and tangible difference to the lives of millions of people with disabilities around the world,” according to a DFID statement.
The summit will be co-hosted by the Kenyan government. Chief among new commitments will be pledges from the World Bank, which plans “to make high-level commitments” on disability, according to the statement. It adds that Mordaunt called on the World Bank “to scale up their work on disability and development” during meetings this month, and pushed for better “data collection” around access to World Bank initiatives in developing programs.
Reacting to the news, Stephen Kidd, senior social policy specialist at Development Pathways, acknowledged the importance of tech interventions when tackling disability inclusion, but added “it’d be great if DFID could change its approach and begin to help countries establish disability benefits as these could be transformative and provide the basis for people to engage in the labor market,” he told Devex.
“There are examples of developing countries that are implementing disability benefits, but donors such as DFID have never given them support,” he said.
At the event Wednesday, DFID partner Handicap International will also unveil new branding and a new name for the 36-year-old organization, which gained renown in 1998 as one of six organizations to win the Nobel Peace Prize for its work on the Mine Ban Treaty. It will now be known as “Humanity & Inclusion.”
Alongside representatives from the organization, Mordaunt will announce the launch of the first mobile phone and web app designed to help people with disabilities better access employment opportunities, as well as provide a platform for employers in developing countries to share data to make sure workplaces are accessible for disabled employees.
“DFID is using new technology and building on innovative collaborations ... to help people with disabilities in the world’s poorest countries get jobs and contribute to their society and economy,” Mordaunt will say.
“Alongside this, we have issued a call for the world to step up and tackle this inequality.”
Update, Jan. 24: This story was updated to include the newly-unveiled name for Handicap International