Development & Disability Conference
On September 29 & 30, a Disability and Development Conference was held in Canberra. Recently AFDO appointed David Webb and Samantha French to be our international representatives. Below is their report on the conference.
Overall – a great conference
Titled “Disability, Disadvantage and Development in the Pacific and Asia”, the aim of the conference was to bring together people from the Asia Pacific region to highlight disability as a core issue for development projects in the region. In this regard, I think everyone who attended would agree that the conference was a huge success.
Main highlight – many People With Disabilities from all over the region.
The first highlight to mention is the large number of people at the conference from countries around the region in attendance, and in particular the significant proportion of these who were people with disabilities. It was very pleasing to feel almost in the minority as a white-anglo-male.
The Rights Based Approach
A feature of the conference that pervaded virtually all presentations was the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD – the Convention). Not surprisingly, there was a sense of celebration about this great milestone for People with Disabilities, though this was regularly tempered by comments on the work that is now required to ensure that the Convention is implemented. But the paradigm shift that the Convention signals was clearly evident – and welcomed – at this conference.
Hand in hand with the Convention was the frequent observation that a rights based approach – which now enjoys acronym status as RBA (goodbye Reserve Bank of Australia) – must now always be applied to any and all projects, programs or services that affect people with disabilities. This includes, of course, the development programs, projects and services that were the focus of this conference. The rights based approach was clearly unanimously endorsed by the conference, though it was pointed out that work needs to done to clarify precisely what this means on the ground in practice and also to communicate this key feature of the Convention to all concerned.
Another feature throughout much of the conference was the presence of AusAID, including the launch of a draft of their disability strategy following the consultations earlier in the year. Titled “Development For All – A Disability Strategy for the Australian Aid Program 2009-2014”, it is expected to be finalised by the end of the year. It was said that after many years of resisting a formal disability strategy, AusAID now has clear direction from the Australian government to prioritise disability. This was reinforced by the presence and the words of Bob McMullen, the Parliamentary Secretary for International Development Assistance (and therefore the “boss” of AusAID), who spoke in the opening session.
Bill Shorten, the Parliamentary Secretary for Disabilities and Children’s Services, was also in attendance so it was further pointed out that for the first time in Australia’s history we will soon have both a national and an international disability strategy. Although I have concerns with some of the details in both these strategies (see below), I do believe the government is genuine in its commitment to disability issues, though much remains to be done to see the aims realised on the ground.
A final general comment – it was a development conference
It was necessary for me to remind myself from time to time during the conference that is was a conference organised by development agencies that are inevitably focused on issues in developing countries. On this occasion, the specific issue was disability.
This prompted me several times to recall the words of Gerard Quinn, the eminent Irish international lawyer with a special interest in the Convention, who in a speech in Mexico last year stated that “we are all developing countries when it comes to disability”.
At times this development perspective made me somewhat uncomfortable as I felt that the human rights issues of people with disability in developed countries were not quite seen as the same human rights struggle that we are fighting here. There was an emphasis at this conference, quite appropriately, on the vicious cycle between disability and poverty that is perhaps especially severe in developing countries. I was once told by a prominent Australian disability advocate that what the Convention was really about was to help bring disability rights in the developing world up to the standard of countries like Australia. This comment alarmed me greatly at the time so I guess I felt some uneasiness that there may have occasionally been a little of this attitude in the room at this conference.
The following is a summary of key themes raised throughout the conference and highlighted by the Roundtable participants.
- A twin-track approach is required to address disadvantage– need to use a twin-track approach and mainstreaming disability doesn’t negate the need for disability-specific strategies.
- Need to use a social model of disability – address the barriers that exist in our communities for people with disability – social, economic and physical barriers.
Integral links between poverty and disability needs to be addressed – the economic participation and contribution of people with disability cannot be underestimated in this respect.
- Valued work of Disabled Peoples Organisations – importance of developing accountability, responsibility, cooperation and leadership.
- Important role of education and awareness-raising
- Empowering women with disability and ensuring their equal opportunity of participation - need to address the specific boundaries that women with disability face.
- Needs to be a collaborative effort of a diverse range of stakeholders
- Partnerships and ensuring sustainability of those partnerships.
- Two way communication and shared leadership are essential elements to any aid programs if they are to be disability inclusive.
- Importance of international cooperation for capacity-building, disability inclusive development, facilitating cooperative research and for providing appropriate technical and economic support.
- Focus needs to be on creating a barrier-free and rights-based society.
- Need to identify ‘disability champions’.
- Crucial to provide the adjustments and accommodations required for full participation.
- Identify creative approaches and strengthen capacity of Disabled Peoples Organisations.
- Inclusion of people with disability is not just about people with disability sharing in the benefits of development, it is also about people with disability contributing to the development of their countries.
- The Convention is both a development and a human rights (or bill of rights) instrument – it provides both a framework for standards and political legitimacy - it is, therefore, necessary to ensure a disability strategy makes reference to, and incorporates the principles of both the Convention on the Rights of Persons with
- Disabilities and Biwako Millennium Framework.
- In regards to prevention, disability is not only a health issue it is also an economic, social and developmental issue.
The Rights-Based Approach was summarised as:
P - Participation
A – Accountability
N – Non-discrimination and equality
E - Empowerment
L – Legal framework
S - Sustainability
Policy and Action Roundtable
Roundtable participants’ perceptions of highlights of conference included:
- How very exciting was to see an increased and renewed commitment from the Australian Government to develop a disability-inclusive development strategy.
- There was also recognition of the important role of Disabled Persons Organisations and the need to develop leadership and build capacity to ensure real participation.
- The Australian Government needs to address issues for Indigenous Australians when developing any strategy on disability-inclusive development.
- The Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and the Biwako Millennium Framework are effective advocacy and educational tools that need to be incorporated into policies and strategies for disability inclusive development.
- The education and employment opportunities of people with disability are pivotal to sustainable economic development and we need to look beyond provision of aid to developing capacity within the community to ensure equal employment opportunities and genuine participation of people with disability in the labour market and broader economic development. It is also important to remember the engagement of all stakeholders in development, including employers.
- The Disability Strategy needs to be consistent with and reinforce the principles of the Convention and Biwako Millennium Framework.
Areas for action specifically identified by Australia:
- Capacity-building of Indigenous Non Government Organisations
Look at ways to strengthen the Aboriginal Disability Network (ADN) and partnerships with Disabled Peoples Organisations.
- Look at creative strategies to show leadership in education and employment.
- Look at the most effective strategies for utilising the Australian Human Rights Commission as many other Nation States in the Asia Pacific region don’t have a national human rights institution.
- Any approach needs to incorporate the diversity within the disability community and be cross-disability.
- There are major issues for rural and remote communities which need to be addressed.
- The importance of showcasing successful programs, strategies and policies and highlight the importance of networking.