Examining disability issues and the MDGs

Over one billion people around the world live with a disability. However, disability issues are not included in any of the Millennium Development Goals, targets or indicators, thereby representing a lost opportunity to address pressing social, educational, health and economic concerns of this large segment of the global population. This was one of the main points of a recent UN DESA report.

Released in December 2011, the report Disability and the Millennium Development Goals: A Review of the MDG Process and Strategies for Inclusion of Disability Issues in Millennium Development Goal Efforts, examines the MDGs and its relation to disability issues with a view to impact the post-2015 development agenda.

The MDGs represent a concerted effort to address global poverty. Yet there is a striking gap in the current MDGs, where persons with disabilities – the 15 per cent of the global population, who live with one or more physical, sensory, intellectual or mental health impairments – are not mentioned in any of the 8 Goals or its 21 targets and indicators, nor in the Millennium Declaration, itself.

This absence is of particular concern because a growing consensus of disability advocates, experts and researchers find that the most pressing issue faced globally by persons with disabilities is not their specific disability, but rather their lack of equitable access to resources such as education, employment, health care and the social and legal support systems. The result is that persons with disabilities experience disproportionately higher rates of poverty.

Not only are the links between disability and poverty of note in themselves, but the size of the global disabled population makes these links of particular concern to all working on poverty issues. This clear link between disability and poverty means that all MDGs are relevant to persons with disabilities and persons with disabilities must be included in all MDG efforts.

Historically, persons with disabilities have been overlooked in international development and global health circles because they were incorrectly seen as people whose lives are defined by medical and rehabilitative needs (the medical model) or as individuals who were considered to be appropriate recipients of social and economic support (the charity model). A newer “social model of disability” has now emerged, which provides a clearer understanding of the constraints faced by persons with disabilities that reflect social, cultural and economic barriers, and are not inherently part of living with a disability. This view has been further strengthened by the adoption of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities by the UN General Assembly in 2006.

The UN has played a key role in the way people with disabilities are now viewed. “The UN has changed its definitions during the past decades from ‘handicapped’, ‘disabled person’, to nowadays ‘a person with a disability’. We are focusing on the person. I think this is a huge achievement,” said Daniela Bas, Director of UN DESA’s Division for Social Policy and Development in a recent interview with DESA News.

The report is intended to provide a “road map” for how and why disability can and should be included in the planning, monitoring and evaluation of MDG-related programmes and policies. Lack of inclusion for persons with disabilities is more than a lost opportunity — a growing body of opinion and data argues that unless persons with disabilities are included, none of the MDGs will be met by the deadline of 2015.

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