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Pacific Western Disability Studies Symposium

June 19, 2019


Rebecca Andrews

DID Fellows at the Pacific Western Disability SymposiumThe Disability Inclusive Development Initiative (DIDI) Fellows presented their collaborative research at the Pacific Western Disability Studies Symposium on the weekend of May 17th-18th. The conference featured keynote sessions with several renowned scholars, including Alison Kafer, Nirmala Erevelles, and Dave Reynolds.

The DIDI presentation was the only presentation during the conference with a specific focus on disability in the Global South. It was also the only presentation to feature both graduate and undergraduate student research.
DIDI Fellows argued that the international development community, specifically non-governmental organizations (NGOs), need to include persons with disabilities in their programming if they are to achieve their goals. The international development community cannot ensure children’s literacy, dignified work, women’s equality, or an end to malaria, as just some examples, without the participation of disabled persons. Persons with disabilities (PWD) account for 15% of the global population, with 80%, or 800 million, PWD living in the Global South.

The first set of presenters highlighted the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) as core elements in a comprehensive international framework respecting the rights of PWD, including their right to full and equal participation in development. This was followed by an analysis of research regarding international NGOs’ development practice(s), the lived disability experience in the Global South, intersectionality and inclusion, and recommendations regarding first steps for implementing an inclusive development agenda.

The research presented included findings from interviews with and survey responses from small to mid-size NGOs working internationally but based in Washington State. The research found that despite the adoption of the SDGs and their commitment to development that “leave[s] no one behind”, the practices of many NGOs continue to discriminate against PWD. Survey responses demonstrated that NGOs lack knowledge about disability and do not see PWDs as part of the populations they serve. For example, the leader of one NGO who participated in a DIDI interview argued that her organization did not include persons with disabilities because she believed (incorrectly) that “there honestly isn’t a huge population [of PWD in our area]” in the country where the NGO worked, even though that country is among the world’s poorest with chronically high levels of malnutrition and underwent a civil war fairly recently. NGO leadership also believe the costs of inclusion are prohibitively high; that inclusion requires disability specialization; and that inclusion is someone else’s responsibility.

At the conference, DIDI Graduate Fellows presented case studies from Gambia, China, and Albania that highlighted the critical role disabled persons and their representative organizations play in promoting greater equality. They emphasized that disabled persons are agents of change in their communities and should be recognized as essential partners in all development efforts.

The presentation concluded with a call to action to adopt practices that include recognition, reasonable accommodation, and representation of PWD in international development.

After the presentation, the floor was opened to questions, where the audience, led by keynote speaker Nirmala Erevelles, engaged the presenters by arguing that the Global North is largely responsible for the marginalization that persons with disabilities face around the world, especially in the development context.

The DIDI Working Group also attended three keynote sessions and side panels at the conference, including Erevelles’ presentation on “Scenes of Subjection: Carceral Logics and Disability Labor at the Intersections;” Alison Kafer on “Practicing Disability Studies,” and Dave Reynolds on“The ADA is almost 30 years old. Hooray! Now What?” There were also a variety of smaller break-out presentations and discussions at the conference which provided Fellows with the opportunity to discuss the work of local disability studies scholars.

This publication was made possible in part by a grant from Carnegie Corporation of New York. The statements made and views expressed are solely the responsibility of the author.