Who Are You Not Reaching? Innovative strategies for inclusion

Ryan O'Malley

Intern, No More Epidemics Campaign

Sylvia Vriesendorp

Principal Technical Advisor for Leadership

The USAID-funded Leadership, Management, and Governance (LMG) Project capitalized on InterAction's Forum 2017 by hosting a breakout session that highlighted approaches for the inclusion of persons with disabilities in development and health programs.

Attendees discuss during a roundtable session at the event. (Photo: MSH)

Attendees discuss during a roundtable session at the event. (Photo: MSH)

The panel and subsequent roundtable discussions provided an opportunity for participants to:

  • Examine their role in supporting inclusion in their own organizations as well as in program design and implementation
  • Discuss perceived barriers to inclusion and approaches and mechanisms to overcoming them
  • Explore how to measure inclusion and meaningful participation to make the realm of inclusion and empowerment visible, thus allowing for greater accountability

Highlights of the Panel

Sylvia Vriesendorp, Principal Technical Advisor for Leadership Development at Management Sciences for Health (MSH), moderated the session, which began with a panel interview to spark participants’ thinking. The panel featured three leaders who brought different perspectives to creating more inclusive development programs:

  • Susan Sygall, is the founder and CEO of Mobility International USA (MIUSA), a MacArthur Fellow, and an internationally-recognized expert in the area of international development, educational exchange, and leadership programs for persons with disabilities. MIUSA’s mission is to empower people with disabilities around the world to achieve their human rights through international exchange and development. Her lifelong passion has been creating programs that empower women and girls with disabilities.
  • Mause Darline-Francois is a strong advocate for persons with disabilities who works as a Program Manager at Christian Blind Mission International (CBM) in Haiti. CBM is an international organization working to improve the quality of life for persons with disabilities around the world. She oversees the National Center for Inclusion and two satellite resource centers, serves as CBM/Haiti’s main point of contact for the disabled peoples’ organizations and community-based organizations around the country. She is also an advocate for disability- related legislation in Haiti, founding a women’s organization that advocates for the importance of diversity in programming, especially for women and girls with disabilities, and hosts her own radio and television show on disability inclusion.
  • Jennifer Whatley is the Divisional Vice President of Civil Society and Governance at World Learning. In her role, she oversees initiatives to integrate social inclusion throughout the organization’s Global Development and Exchange programs. She served on the steering committee for World Learning’s Disability Working Group and more recently has supported development of the Transforming Agency Access and Power (TAAP) Toolkit and Approach to inclusive development.

The panelists spoke of their experiences, successes, and challenges in bringing inclusion to the forefront. Susan Sygall focused in particular on the notion of infiltration, which turns inclusion into something more active and powerful, where persons with disabilities actively seek a seat at the decision-making table even when not invited.

Mause Darline-Francois did not have a role model when she was younger, but the leadership skills she gained by participating in MIUSA’s Women’s Institute for Leadership and Disability (WILD) have greatly helped her become a respected advocate for persons with disabilities and a role model for young girls in Haiti. She was recently nominated to be the Secretary of State for Persons with Disabilities, a position responsible for ensuring the government is accountable in promoting and protecting the rights of persons with disabilities.

Jennifer Whatley shared how World Learning adopted inclusion as an organizational imperative by identifying and supporting internal staff champions, holding workshops and staff training sessions, and incorporating inclusion from the beginning of program design.

Key Takeaways from Roundtable Discussions

During the roundtable discussions participants explored in greater depth what actions they can take in their own organization, as well as what recommendations to make to others, to include persons with disabilities and other commonly excluded populations.

The attendees and panelists divided into three groups to share effective practices, ask questions, and suggest ideas for action. The takeaways from the discussions divide into three levels: actions for organizations, actions for development partners and donors, and actions for individuals.

Actions for organizations
  • Lead by example: an organization’s leadership team should set a strategic direction to increase inclusion, highlight the capabilities of persons with disabilities to counter implicit biases, and routinely reinforce this in messaging and actions
  • Identify a disability focal point and support internal champions to move an inclusion agenda forward in practical ways
  • Partner with disabled people’s organizations at the headquarters and field levels
  • Conduct an audit to identify accessibility and inclusion gaps in current programs and practices
  • Budget one to three percent of operational budget for reasonable accommodations
  • Include disability and inclusion indicators in performance metrics
  • Train all staff in inclusion - including exploring myths, barriers, and assumptions about disabilities
  • Program staff: how to integrate inclusion into the design, implementation, oversight, and monitoring and evaluation of all activities
  • Support staff: how to support the recruitment, accommodation, development, and retention of staff with disabilities
  • Create internships for persons with disabilities and allow them to share their stories with staff
Actions for development partners and donors
  • Explicitly ask for disability inclusion in requests for proposals and other funding opportunities 
  • Require disability-disaggregated data 
  • Provide targeted funding to disabled people’s organizations to implement development programs
Actions for individuals
  • Explore and reflect on implicit biases and assumptions
  • Build relationships with persons with disabilities, ask them about their interests and needs, and how they would like to contribute
  • Get educated on the USAID Disability Policy, the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, and other resources that provide guidance and tools on the imperative to include persons with disabilities in all development efforts

The energy generated by these discussions led straight into Interaction’s Disability Working Group meeting which followed the session and developed recommendations to InterAction Members that will be brought to the InterAction Board.

Attendees discuss during a roundtable session at the event. (Photo: MSH)

Attendees discuss during a roundtable session at the event. (Photo: MSH)

Participants’ experience helped create practical recommendations on how to make inclusion a reality and highlighted new ideas that they can take back to their work. The enthusiasm during  this session demonstrated a clear interest to continue the dialogue within and among non-governmental organizations in the future.

Learn more about tools and principles for inclusive development: