Inclusive approaches – it just makes sense

Jazz Shaban

As part of our commitments at the 2022 Global Disability Summit, we’re committed to ensuring that our work is shaped by the voices and experiences of people with disabilities.

Charity Wangechi, 21, at Stepwise offices in Nairobi on April 15, 2021. Charity works at Milimani Court as an employment and relation supervisor after learning different job skills through i2i programme.
A photo of Charity Wangechi, who works as an employment and relation supervisor after learning different job skills through our i2i programme.

Jazz Shaban, our DPO Engagement Manager catches up with representatives of some of the Organisations of Persons with Disabilities (OPDs) we’ve been working with as part of our innovation 2 inclusion (i2i) programme.

Our conversation

Syovata Kilonzo (Project and Communication Officer, Ecumenical Disability Advocates, Kenya): We have a saying, “you cannot be at the landing if you are not there at the take off.” It is very important for organisations to collaborate with OPDs right from the start. That way the voices of persons with disabilities are there throughout. At the time of planning, learning, communication and monitoring. They can’t be planning for us when we aren’t given a voice!

And OPDs can help demystify some of the narratives around disability, like employing disabled people is expensive for example. OPDs can help address some of the potential challenges and support throughout the entire process to makes sure the project is truly impactful. 

Jazz: Exactly that, engagement with OPDs from the outset in inclusion work just makes good sense. If people are brought in part way through projects, things get missed. Messages get mixed. And it can affect the enthusiasm of the project too.

If everyone has a clear vision of a project from the start, then everyone is on the same page from the start. The engagement is real, it’s authentic and ultimately the relationships are more valuable.

Shahidul Islam Sazzad (Executive Director, Disabled Development and Research Center-DDRC, Bangladesh): OPDs are important to work with because they work at a local level. They have a clear understanding of disability rights and the local context. They can really help bring in that leadership locally. Connecting organisations with the disabled people they are looking to work with. These collaborations can strengthen projects and bring in a whole range of knowledge. 

Iftekhar Mahmud (Coordinator at B-Scan, Bangladesh): Yes, and OPDs also help build up the credibility of projects. If engaged from the outset you can have a diverse skill set within project teams. And this can help improve the visibility of projects too! It can raise the profile of the project at a local, national and even international level. But more importantly it connects the project to the community. That way, the community is united behind it too. 

The importance of data

Jazz: All great points. And through working closely with OPDs and sharing knowledge, we can really advocate for change. But we also need data to help back up our advocacy work. The Inclusion Counts Tool is something that the OPDs we work with have access to. The Tool aims to provide a framework for measuring a country’s movements towards implementing a particular article in the UN’s CRPD.

With the work we’ve been doing on i2i, we’ve been focusing on two articles in particular. Article 27, which is around inclusive employment, and Article 28, which is around social protection. So the data and information available on the Tool allows OPDs to see how their country’s policies and processes are moving towards implementing those articles. And this helps OPDs underpin the messaging within their advocacy work when they’re having those crucial conversations. So how has the Tool been helping you all in your work? 

Syovata: For us – like other OPDs – we were struggling to get good quality data. And we need that data to really hold governments accountable. This Tool has meant a lot in our work. It’s a reference point for us and helps us develop our strategies, particularly when advocating for the implementation of Articles 27 and 28 by our governments. It’s something that’s come to strengthen our work. And we’re counting on it to help us better our strategies moving forward. 

Shahidul: Without data we can’t make a complete plan. Without a complete plan we can’t think about inclusion. Without inclusion we can’t think about mainstreaming for persons with disabilities. Without mainstreaming we can’t think about universal development. So data collection is key! Data is really important for planning projects and for advocacy. So this Tool and the data available is essential for our work. 

Iftekhar: Data helps improve our capacity as an organisation. It strengthens our messages when talking to communities or governments. And having access to this information is key when planning responses to things – like COVID-19. We needed data collected through this tool to understand how the pandemic was affecting persons with disabilities in Bangladesh. So this tool will help us really ‘step into’ the CRPD and revise our advocacy plans and turn them into action. That way we can make sure we are progressing towards it in Bangladesh.

Why we need to work together

Jazz: It’s great to hear how the tool has helped in responding to the pandemic and will help in the future too. It gave us the opportunity to test the tool in a real-world emergent situation, learning as we went along. And as Iftekhar mentioned just then, working together and using these tools really does allow for flexibility within programmes. And it helps programmes be responsive to changing situations like COVID-19. We can definitely harness that learning moving forward, and we’ve certainly learnt a lot working together. What have been your highlights?

Syovata: I’ve learnt so much on this project, particularly working with other OPDs. It’s meant we can create allies in this work. It’s been a learning environment throughout the project. I’ve got to learn about some of the challenges in Bangladesh – many of which are similar. And we’re able to learn from each other in terms of how we address those challenges. There is power in working together rather than working in isolation. And together we’re all pushing the agenda of inclusion!

Shahidul: Yes working on this project has definitely created opportunities to network and learn. And implement our work on the local, national and international level. We’ve had experience working closely with other OPDs, which will definitely be helpful to take forward into future activities too. 

Iftekhar: I’ve learnt that through networking with OPDs and NGOs we can really make an impact and learn about other projects. It’s provided opportunity to access guidance and gain skills. Training conferences and workshops have also been really important for sharing knowledge. This has created a real hub of information sharing that builds our capacity as OPDs, building up our leadership and allowing us to support our communities. And it makes you realise we’re not working alone; we’re working together!

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