The Global Disability Summit

16 August 2018

The Global Disability Summit

Written by Katharine Jones, Media and Advocacy Officer, The Leprosy Mission England and Wales.

Politics aside, the UK Government’s Department for International Development (DFID) must be applauded for sponsoring and co-hosting the Global Disability Summit; a goliath feat of logistics which brought together the international community to focus on disability inclusion at Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, East London, UK on 24 July 2018.

Around a thousand political leaders, heads of state, corporations and banks, people with disabilities, organisations representing people with disabilities, and people from charities came from far and wide to pledge their support to improve the lives of people with disabilities. This resulted in public admission by governments to their deficits in spending on disability, declarations of new policies, more funding, more collaboration, more accountability and most importantly of all, the inclusion of people with disabilities in the decision-making that affects their lives. 

For The Leprosy Mission, this was an exceptional opportunity to raise the flag for people affected by leprosy and disability. We showed up in number and demonstrated that we meant business on the BOND Disability and Development Group 'marketplace stall', and through networking with people with disabilities, representatives of Disabled People's Organisations, ministers and civil servants from DFID and other governments, and representatives from other charities and NGOs.

GDS2_blog_extraIt was also a one-off opportunity for our colleagues; Harsha Gudasalamani and James George from TLM Trust India's CREATE project team, and Ganesh Muthusamy, a Leprosy Champion and DPO member, to network and advocate for people affected by leprosy and disability.

Many of us individually signed up to the Charter for Change; a memorable way for everyone that took part in the Summit to think about how they might include people with disabilities in their lives and bring about, what is arguably necessary, a global cultural shift in disability inclusion, in which we define disability as part of what it is to be human not something that has gone wrong.

The Leprosy Mission had also previously signed the Charter for Change and in addition to signing up to the Charter’s commitments, pledged seven further commitments relating to leprosy and disability:

  1. to end stigma and discrimination by working with persons affected to empower them to combat discriminatory laws,
  2. to support people disabled by leprosy to participate in the disability movement for the implementation of the UNCRPD,
  3. to train people with disabilities, including those with leprosy, by providing them with the technical and life/business-skills in the areas of micro-credit/self-employment to access decent and full employment and to work with employers to sensitise and motivate them to provide inclusive and accessible workplaces, 
  4. to produce good quality and aesthetically inclusive assistive devices and to ensure they are available to all who need them along with support in their effective use and maintenance, 
  5. to invest in new technologies, to ensure that our assistive devices are the best they can be,  
  6. to use the Washington Group Questions (WGQ) as part of our data collection processes to gather disability data to inform project, local and national planning, and  
  7. to protect women with leprosy-related disabilities from becoming victims of domestic violence. 

My great hope is that, looking back, the Summit will be likened to the signing of the London Declaration (the pledge by governments and corporations back in January 2012 to rid the world of Neglected Tropical Diseases) – a milestone that was reached when our ocean tanker of a world slowly adjusted its course for the benefit of some of its most deserving individuals.

A billion people worldwide have a disability, about 80% of whom live in low or middle-income countries. #NowIsTheTime for change.

Katharine Jones works as Media and Advocacy Officer for The Leprosy Mission England and Wales which she joined in 2017. She is focused on external communications, advocacy, raising the awareness of leprosy and cross-cutting issues linked with NTDs. Previously she worked for the international anti-leprosy federation, ILEP, in Geneva. She worked in PR and communications for a variety of organisations in the biotech and pharmaceutical sector before moving into the NGO/not-for-profit sector. Katharine is a committed Christian and also loves choral singing, skiing and her husband.