At the Global Disability Summit in London the Government of Uganda made twenty two commitments to enhance disability inclusion around four core themes
By Francesca Stidston
I arrived in Uganda at the beginning of this year as the new Deputy Head of Office for the UK’s Department for International Development. I was somewhat daunted by the challenges that lay ahead of me, not in terms of the work, but the physical challenges that come with impaired mobility. In the UK I would be considered disabled; here I prefer the term I saw above a disabled parking spot for the ‘differently abled’.
There are an estimated one billion people around the world -with some form of disability. 80% are living in developing countries. In Uganda, it is estimated that 12% of the population has some form of disability, approximately 4.5 million people. That is why this week the UK and Kenyan Governments, with the International Disability Alliance have co-hosted a world-first Global Disability Summit. This will galvanise action to promote greater inclusion while celebrating the achievements and rights of people with disabilities. The UK Secretary of State for International Development Penny Mordaunt opened the Summit, signing her statement “When disabled people are included, great things happen”. The Summit was led by people with disabilities from across the globe and attended by Hon Janat Mukwaya, Minister for Gender, Labour and Social Development along with senior officials.
Disability in Uganda and the UK
In Uganda disability is both a cause and consequence of poverty and people often face significant barriers that prevent them from participating fully in society, including getting a quality education and employment. Data collected by the Ugandan Bureau of Statistics (UBOS) shows that persons with disabilities are often poorer than non-disabled. Disability inclusion remains a neglected and un-prioritised issue. We cannot end poverty without reaching people with disabilities.
Those with disabilities are likely to face more risks and vulnerabilities along their life cycle, as well as face barriers resulting in limited participation, such as accessing public transport, getting adequate healthcare and employment. Thus, Uganda has to address inequity within the population to ensure equal access to basic services as a human right.
In the UK I am among an estimated 11.6 million disabled people (around 18% of the population). We have seen an improvement in the employment rate for disabled people from 46.3% since 2012 to 76.4% in 2017. And while the legislative framework for those with disabilities is strong in the UK discrimination still exists, with around 33% recording difficulties in accessing public services.
Through the UK’s Department for International Development we are supporting persons with disabilities to end stigma and fully value the contribution disabled people can give to the success of those nations. As an issue which cuts across development priorities, DFID has mainstreamed disability issues across
programming. We have supported over 2,000 girls with disabilities with bursaries and other school requirements, and improved the skills of over 1,100 teachers to manage inclusive classrooms. Through the social protection programme over 100,000 older persons with disabilities are benefiting from regular cash transfers.
On 17 July the Ugandan Bureau of Statistics (UBOS) published the findings of Uganda’s first Functional Difficulties Survey, supported through financial and technical assistance from the UK and UNICEF. This helps to provide reliable data on disability for inclusive planning and budgeting. The results show that malaria is one of the leading causes of disability in Uganda, particularly among children (accounting for 32%), investment in education and health are essential and key pillars of UK aid activity.
UKaid is supporting people like Julius who lost his sight in a motorbike accident. Julius thought his life was over; he had no one to support him to learn a new way of life. With UKaid support Julius was able to attend vocational skills training for tailoring, where he met his wife as Najiba. Julius and Najiba now run a successful local tailoring business in Kampala. They are planning to set up their own skills training centre to help others with disabilities. Their success has changed community perceptions, showing that inclusion benefits communities, societies and economies if all of us work together.
UK and Ugandan Summits
On 3 July the Ugandan Government, with support from the UK, hosted a National Disability Dialogue attended by donors, implementing partners and civil society. At the event the Ugandan government committed to enact and approve important laws and policies which will further disability inclusion.
At the Global Disability Summit in London the Government of Uganda made twenty two commitments to enhance disability inclusion around four core themes: tackling stigma and discrimination against persons with disabilities; routes to economic empowerment of persons with disabilities; inclusion in education and harnessing technology and innovation. These included a commitment to develop a costed National Plan of Action including a National Inclusive Education Policy by 2020 and fund its implementation. Additionally, to set up a national savings and credit cooperative for persons with disabilities. The Charter for Change, the official document of the Summit, has been signed by the Government of Uganda. It will ensure a global consensus to address this long-neglected issue, and support the rights of persons with disabilities around the world.
I welcome the work the Government of Uganda has done to make the legal and policy environment supportive of inclusion of persons with disabilities in all aspects of life.
The Government is implementing a number of programmes targeting persons with disabilities such as the Special Grant, the Community Rehabilitation Programme, as well as institutional vocational rehabilitation to empower persons with disabilities with employable skills. I am looking forward to the implementation of the commitments made at the Global Disability Summit but more still needs to be done to tackle stigma and promote greater inclusion.
For our part, the UK Government will continue to work with all key institutions and stakeholders, including other Development Partners, to champion disability inclusion. Through our portfolio of programmes that includes agri-business, trade, gender, education and malaria programmes, we strive to raise opportunities for all and transform the lives of the most disadvantaged.
On a personal note I will continue to work with colleagues and the amazing advocates for disability inclusion that you have here in Uganda. I have been both impressed and humbled by their experiences and hope to continue providing an example of what is possible for those of us differently able.
Writer is the deputy head of office for DFID Uganda