SDGs: A doorway to substantial change for people with disabilities?

A child uses a wheelchair donated to the disabled community in Abu Shouk camp for internally displaced people in North Darfur, Sudan. The sustainable development goals could transform education and work prospects for people with disabilities in developing countries. Photo by: Albert González Farran / UNAMID / CC BY-NC-ND

The sustainable development goals set to be adopted at the U.N. summit in New York over the weekend will see international governments commit to promote the educational and employment inclusion of all by 2030.

While there is now a doorway to substantial change for people with disabilities, the next step is for the key actors in international development to mobilize.

Resources and energy

The U.K. government has shown considerable leadership on disability and development but it must now urge others to follow its lead. A good starting point would be to convene a high-level donor meeting at the United Nations’ International Day of Persons with Disabilities on Dec. 3.

Such a meeting would give governments, foundations, multilateral and civil society organizations the opportunity to commit the necessary resources and energy to support the inclusive models that can deliver practical change for disabled people.


It is also essential that the data collected in the coming years to monitor progress towards achieving the 2015-2030 goals is gathered effectively. Researchers at the Leonard Cheshire Disability and Inclusive Development Center are helping to shape global thinking on this.

The data collected to monitor progress must reflect the ambition of the SDGs. If not, our best opportunity yet to ensure people with disabilities are counted and count will be missed.

A unified, country-level, approach to monitoring and measuring progress toward achieving the SDGs is required. The system should be established under the leadership of national statistics offices and should draw upon data from the aforementioned multilateral and civil society organizations, along with all other stakeholders.

Every effort should be made to ensure that this data is gathered using the question set developed by the U.N.’s Washington Group on Disability Statistics.

The questions, which can readily be translated, do not cause stigma as they do not ask about disability directly. Instead, they measure what survey participants can and cannot do.

The answers can be readily compared over the next 15 years to evaluate progress.

Creating work opportunities

Leonard Cheshire Disability works globally, with international, national and local partners, to help people live independently, support their families and contribute to their communities.

We work with disabled job seekers to understand their motivations and objectives, and then provide relevant training, business development support and microfinance to help them become economically empowered.

Achieving inclusive education

We are also testing inclusive education models: A Leonard Cheshire project typically begins with a baseline study to identify children with disabilities who do or don’t attend school, support services, education and social policies, and barriers to inclusion in an area.

Inclusion starts at this point, with the baseline study as a participatory process involving children, parents and families, teachers, community leaders and local organizations.

We advocate governments, nongovernmental organizations and others involved in teacher training provide further training on working with children with specific impairments such as epilepsy or multiple disabilities.

Furthermore, there needs to be improved assessment of children to identify specific impairments, so as to improve awareness, use and delivery of individual education plans.

Safeguarding children with disabilities should also be mainstreamed into all child safeguarding/protection training for teachers.

Those involved in helping communities construct new schools should ensure they are fully accessible and that they provide adapted teaching and learning materials, such as Braille books.


Through both inclusive education and employment models, we are committed to improving the lives of 100,000 people in Africa and Asia between 2015 and 2020.

Leonard Cheshire Disability tests models of inclusion across Africa and Asia to pave the way for larger, targeted programs by local and national governments.

The SDGs offer hope for millions with disabilities. We look forward to working with others to ensure progress matches the ambition of the new agenda.

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About the author

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    Tiziana Oliva

    Tiziana Oliva is the international director of Leonard Cheshire Disability. She joined the organization from VSO, where as director of Africa she had responsibility for operations in 18 countries and three regional hubs. Prior to VSO, she held leadership roles at Merlin and CARE International, with field work on humanitarian interventions as well as long term recovery and development programs.