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Why organisations need to rise to the UN’s challenge on disability

Image of UN flag with headquarters in the background

By Brendan Roach, Business Disability Forum

Since its inception in 1992, and certainly within the ten or so years that I have been working in this field, the UN’s International Day of Persons with Disabilities (IDPD), which is held annually on 3 December, has become *the* date for organisations around the world to celebrate their achievements, raise awareness and launch new disability-related initiatives.

The theme for this year’s IDPD is ‘Transformation towards a sustainable and resilient society for all’[1] and focuses on identifying the ‘enabling conditions for the changes envisaged in the 2030 development agenda for Sustainable Development’[2].

This is the first in a short series of blogs in the run up to the 2017 event, looking at the role that organisations have to play in transforming society for disabled people worldwide.

Disability and Sustainable Development

The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development contains 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)[3]. The goals were adopted by UN members in 2015 and aim to mobilise the efforts of stakeholders in all member countries to ‘end all forms of poverty, fight inequalities and tackle climate change, while ensuring that no one is left behind’.

The aim to leave no one behind is significant when it comes to people with disabilities.

Globally, an estimated one billion people have a disability[4] (that’s 15% of the world’s population). There is strong evidence that disability and poverty are linked, with disabled people more likely to live in poverty due to higher unemployment, lower income levels and lower attainment of skills and qualifications. This is a global trend but, unsurprisingly, is especially pronounced in low income countries.

The disadvantages experienced by disabled people in many parts of the world have been compounded by a historic lack of focus on improving disability-related outcomes in development initiatives. For example, people with disabilities were not mentioned at all in the Millennium Development Goals (which preceded the current Sustainable Development Goals).

Indeed, the UK’s Department for International Development (DfID) suggests that disability inclusion often lags behind other priorities when it comes to international development. For example, disability only comprised 3% of total human rights funding globally in 2012 compared to 26% on women and girls, 21% on children and youth and 5% on LGBT[5].

To ensure that people with disabilities are not left behind in relation to the 2030 agenda, five of the Sustainable Development Goals include specific references to disability. These are in relation to education, economic growth and employment, addressing inequality, the accessibility of human settlements and data collection.

The role of organisations

Some forward thinking organisations are beginning to use the Sustainable Development Goals as a framework for their own sustainability efforts. For example, in 2016 Saint-Gobain (a Business Disability Forum Member) incorporated the 17 Goals in to its corporate social responsibility strategy. Saint-Gobain’s approach is to prioritise action against the Sustainable Development Goals that most closely align to its own strategic priorities and where the company can have the most impact[6].

Given the breadth of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals, it is clear that a wide range of organisations including governments, the public and private sector and non-government organisations will need to transform how they think and behave when it comes to disability.

This is especially relevant when you consider that almost every aspect of our lives is directly or indirectly influenced by the actions of organisations. For example, an organisation:

  • Made the laws of the country that I live in
  • Educated me
  • Employs me
  • Made the laptop that I’m using to write this blog
  • Built the roads, pavements and other public spaces outside and around my home

It is clear from just a few examples, how our life chances are dependent on the extent to which the activities of a variety of organisations are inclusive. For people with disabilities, the outcome is all too often exclusion due to factors such as discrimination, low expectations, the attitude of employers and the inaccessibility of a whole host of public and commercial services, products and infrastructure (from transport to the internet).

This is why organisations are central to Business Disability Forum’s vision of a society where business and government promote the economic and social inclusion of people with disabilities. It is also why our mission is to build disability-smart organisations, which we do through the provision of advice and guidance, business to business networking and knowledge-sharing.

Taking action

The UN’s IDPD webpage includes a list of recommendations of how to commemorate IDPD 2017[7]; The final recommendation of how to commemorate IDPD 2017 is to take action. This is crucial because it is only through sustained and coordinated action that we can ever hope to see the kind of transformation for people with disabilities that the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development envisages.

In my next entry, I’ll explore the practical steps that any organisation needs to take in order to improve its disability performance and work towards becoming disability-smart.




[4] World Bank and World Health Organisation (2011) World Report on disability


[6] page 108


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