Sightsavers’ director of policy and programme strategy, Dom Haslam, responds to the “devastating” outcome of the vote to keep the budget for international development at 0.5% of national income.
Statement: Sightsavers’ response to UK aid reduction decision
In response to Conservative MPs voting to keep the budget for international development at 0.5% of national income, Dom Haslam, Sightsavers’ director of policy and programme strategy, said:
“Today, despite valiant efforts by those across the political spectrum to stand up for global solidarity, MPs have taken a step backwards and voted in favour of maintaining foreign aid cuts. The tests that the government have in place that set out when the UK will return to spending 0.7% of GNI on aid were not being met prior to the pandemic and today’s decision will mean aid will not return to 0.7% for the foreseeable future. This will have a devastating and long-term impact for hundreds of millions of people around the world. Progress to eliminate disease will be undone, patients left untreated, and some of the poorest and most marginalised communities around the world will be left without the support they need in the middle of a global pandemic.”
Getrude has been recognised at the World Blindness Summit 2021 for her work in social inclusion and disability rights.
Sightsavers’ Gertrude Oforiwa Fefoame receives women’s empowerment award
Sightsavers’ Gertrude Oforiwa Fefoame has been awarded the World Blind Union Women’s Empowerment Award for her work empowering women and girls with disabilities.
Gertrude has more than 40 years’ experience in leadership, development, programming and advocacy. As well as her role as Sightsavers’ advocacy adviser for social inclusion, she is also a member of the committee that monitors the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. She is being recognised at the summit for her work in the areas of social inclusion and disability rights.
Gertrude said: “I am overwhelmed with joy at receiving this great honour. I could not have come this far without the support of all my family, friends and colleagues. I am especially grateful to the many disability organisations I have worked with in Ghana and internationally and also to Sightsavers for their phenomenal support.”
She continues, “I dedicate this award to all the blind and partially sighted women and girls working at the grassroots to make change, and all the women and girls with disabilities who have come along with me all these years in my efforts.”
Presented at the World Blindness Summit 2021, the Women’s Empowerment Award is given to a woman who is blind or partially sighted who has made a substantial and outstanding contribution to empower other women. Getty is receiving the award after the Women’s Leadership Committee of the World Blind Union (WBU) chose her through the nomination process.
Andrew Griffiths, Sightsavers’ head of advocacy, said: “I’m delighted that Gertrude has been awarded the World Blind Union Women’s Empowerment Award. Gertrude, through her tireless advocacy for the rights of women and girls with disabilities, including as a member of the UNCRPD committee, wholly deserves this award and the recognition it brings. It is a privilege to work alongside her at Sightsavers.”
Taking place last month in Madrid, Spain, the World Blindness Summit 2021 gathered more than 4,000 people from 152 countries. The summit promotes access to education, employment, culture and participation in all areas of life for more than 285 million blind people worldwide.
In Kenya, a Sightsavers initative is helping young people with disabilities launch their careers. Here, some of the students share their stories.
Building a career in IT with the Bridge Academy
The Bridge Academy, launched in Nairobi, Kenya in March 2021, trains young people with disabilities in information technology.
Over a nine-month training course, the academy will give students a strong career foundation in IT – skills that are in high demand as the world of work becomes increasingly digital.
After lessons were paused during Kenya’s COVID-19 lockdown, the students are back in the classroom and eager to learn. Sightsavers caught up with some of the academy’s students to see how they are finding the course.
Meet Benson, Divinah, Jacklyne and Shanice, four students who are currently enrolled at the academy.
‘It’s going to change my life’
Despite holding a diploma in teaching from Kenyatta University, Benson has struggled to find a job because of his visual impairment. He joined the Bridge Academy hoping to improve his employability. “I see the course as a game changer,” he says. “It’s going to change my life. The position that I am in right now… I’m jobless. I hope my life is going to change – I’ll have a job, and I’ll have my daily bread.”
Before joining the course, Benson had been unable to secure a teaching job, despite having the qualifications, because of the barriers people with disabilities in Kenya face. He explains: “The TSC [Teachers Service Commission] used to employ people with disabilities immediately after people graduate. Nowadays they ask for experience. And you’ll find that most of the people with disabilities don’t have this experience.”
Once he’s employed, Benson hopes to support other people with disabilities in his community. “I would like to support people with disabilities in learning skills like the ones that I’ve gained,” he says. “I would like also to support people with disabilities to stand for themselves.”
‘The big challenge we face is discrimination’
A common experience that the students shared was the deep-rooted discrimination from potential employers while looking for a job.
Divinah, another student at the academy, says: “Someone may look at you and even though you have the capability [to work] they just take you for how you look and they’re like: ‘You should not do this.’ Most of the big challenges we face [are because of] discrimination.”
Divinah says she was lucky that an employer gave her the chance to work at a charity, where she discovered her passion for IT. “I used to just love anything dealing with computers,” she says. “I used to tell my boss: ‘One day, one time, I will learn IT.’” But she says this opportunity was rare for someone with a disability – most employers tend to judge people on their disability rather than their ability to do the job.
The Bridge Academy is helping to break down these barriers for people with disabilities and equips them with the skills and practical experience they need. Once their classroom training is complete, they’ll have the chance to work a three-month internship at Safaricom, the largest mobile network provider in Kenya. Other businesses in Kenya are working with the academy to help the students become ‘job ready’ when they graduate.
On her goals for the future, Divinah says, “My aspiration in life is to be a great businesswoman and to inspire everyone out there – whether they be disabled, or not – to tell them, ‘You can do anything in life.’”
‘I won’t be the same after finishing here’
Jacklyne’s love of computers drove her to sign up to the academy, where she hopes to gain the skills she needs to find work in the IT sector. She’s seen how difficult it can be for disabled people to be offered employment in Kenya.
“I discovered the course through a WhatsApp group. Then I saw the link and I decided to apply because I love IT so much,” she says. “I’ve seen so many people with disabilities who have completed their education and they are still at home because they cannot even find the opportunity.”
Jacklyne was pleased to join the academy and leave behind the daily discrimination she experienced in her hometown. Before the course, she says, “life was horrible. I had given up because of what people were saying. At home I was so stressed. But now, after coming here, I’m okay.”
At the academy, Jacklyne is thriving and picking up new skills, and she’s looking to fulfil her career aspirations after she completes the training. Some of her ambitions go beyond IT. “I have learnt how to use a router, a switch, things that I didn’t know,” she says. “I’m hoping to get a job in anything to do with computer networking or cyber security. My dream is to have a big house. I love business. I know I will not be the same again after finishing here. So I have great vision!
“I want to thank our sponsors for taking the time to sponsor me, and their generosity. I appreciate what they have done for us.”
‘I’m looking forward to becoming an expert’
For Shanice, who is deaf, joining the academy was a perfect opportunity. She had tried to learn IT skills before but had been discouraged by someone who told her that people with disabilities cannot study. “Then wow, surprisingly Sightsavers came on board and I was introduced to this whole training, and then I got my opportunity,” she says. “When I heard it is going to focus specifically on people with disabilities I was really happy.”
Once she has completed the training, Shanice’s goal is to use her new computer skills for good and protect people from becoming victims of online crime. “People are being robbed… people will not rob you physically, they will not rob you in a very violent way, but what they do is hack your accounts,” she says. “I want to defend people against that cybercrime.”
After just three weeks, the course has already inspired Shanice to start looking to the future. “I’m looking forward to becoming an expert in engineering and cyber security,” she says.
She also wants to find time in the future to empower other people with disabilities. She says, “I want to build something that is going to help people living with a disability. I want to train them in how to survive, and then I’ll give them experience in how to own a business. In short, I want to coach people with disabilities to be self-independent.”
“This is a dream come true and I really thank Sightsavers for everything. I would also like to thank all our donors and our supporters because without you, we couldn’t make it.”
Sightsavers will be following Benson, Divinah, Jacklyne, Shanice and the other students from the Bridge Academy on their journey through their studies. You can follow their progress on Sightsavers’ website and our social media channels.
The IT Academy is run by Inclusive Futures in partnership with the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development. Training is taking place at the National Industrial Training Authority (NITA).
The curriculum used is CISCO’s Certified Network Associate course. The course provides a nine-month intensive programme which has been adapted to serve people with disabilities. The course has worked successfully in the US, under the leadership of Three Talents.
The IT Academy in Kenya is funded by donor partners: UK Aid, German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ), and the Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation (Norad).
The study looked at interventions that have been used to tackle stigma, and highlighted gaps in the evidence base. Researchers are now calling for more effort to be put into filling these gaps.
Sightsavers study highlights gaps in research into disability discrimination
A Sightsavers study into disability-related stigma and discrimination has shown that there are significant gaps in research into the subject.
The study looked at interventions that have been used to tackle stigma, and identified gaps in the evidence base. Researchers are now calling for more effort to be put into filling these gaps.
The systematic literature review identified 82 studies reporting disability-related stigma and discrimination from sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia. It then assessed them for methodological quality – a measure of whether the studies were likely to provide reliable results.
The review found that the studies were unevenly spread across different countries and types of impairment. The majority of studies that were assessed for quality were also deemed to be of low methodological quality.
Emma Jolley, global technical lead for health and disability research at Sightsavers, said: “Our review notes the lack of good quality evidence about interventions and their impact on the lives of people with disabilities, particularly those with physical and sensory impairments, and those living in sub-Saharan Africa. This means that when it comes to addressing stigma and discrimination, we still don’t have the tools we need.”
As well as exploring the forms stigma can take, the review identified factors that can drive it, and the personal characteristics that can work together to create different outcomes for people. Researchers looked at the interventions that have been used to tackle stigma and discrimination, and the evidence about how effective they were. They also examined the tools that have been used to measure change.
The findings have led to a number of recommendations for organisations planning research, and for programmes that aim to reduce disability stigma and discrimination. These include:
- Develop and use robust and common frameworks to understand and explore stigma and discrimination.
- Invest in developing and using standardised tools and appropriate methods for measuring stigma, and conducting good quality research on interventions to address stigma in different settings.
- Conduct research at the outset of planning interventions to understand the context-specific drivers and manifestations of stigma. Organisations should measure experienced and enacted stigma at the start of projects and at various points along the way, to identify changes over time.
- Involve people with disabilities and their representative organisations in all stages of design and implementation of interventions and research. This is not only the right thing to do, but is also often associated with better results.
Emma Jolley added: “This is a good example of Sightsavers’ evidence-led approach. As an organisation, we rely on a solid understanding of the evidence base to inform how we work.
“This review tells us that we need to focus on generating and sharing robust evidence in a transparent way. It also highlights the need for researchers and implementing organisations to develop common methodologies, and for funding agencies to support the work to tackle disability-related stigma and discrimination.”
A positive impact on our programmes
The review is already having a positive impact on Sightsavers’ development work, particularly in cases where the organisation is working together with communities to overcome stigma.
One of the programmes where these learnings are being used is Ghana Somubi Dwumadie. This programme’s goal is to ensure that people with disabilities in Ghana, including people with mental health conditions, are able to enjoy improved wellbeing, social and economic outcomes, and rights.
Following the recommendations of the systematic review, Sightsavers has used a robust framework and has been involving people with disabilities and their representative organisations in Ghana to understand and develop activities to reduce stigma.
So far this has led to a number of suggestions including holding town hall meetings, creating radio programmes, and providing training for healthcare staff and people in the media industry to improve language and the culture of support for people with disabilities.
Cathy Stephen, global technical lead for social behaviour change at Sightsavers, sid: “It’s been fantastic to see how the systematic review is helping to guide our work in Ghana and elsewhere. The review is shaping up to be a valuable tool, both for us and for other organisations who are working to combat the damaging effects of stigma and discrimination.”
The review was funded by Irish Aid, the Government of Ireland’s official international development aid programme.
Sightsavers’ video statement was delivered as part of the annual disability conference in New York. It called for disability rights to be upheld in the global response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Sightsavers calls for equity and inclusion in statement to UN disability conference
Sightsavers has delivered a video statement calling for disability rights to be upheld in the global pandemic response, as part of the 14th Conference of States Parties to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) being held this week in New York.
In the statement, Sightsavers’ head of policy Hannah Loryman called on the global community to uphold the CRPD in its response to the COVID-19 pandemic, saying: “COVID-19 brought to the forefront what we already knew – that progress on disability rights has been too slow. That exclusion is still built into the systems which impact on everyone’s ability to live a fulfilled and independent life. And this exclusion is made is even more severe in times of crisis.”
Loryman also highlighted the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on people with disabilities – particularly women and other groups of people who face intersecting forms of discrimination. She emphasised the need for better disability data, as well as robust planning and budgeting for inclusion, and reiterated the call of Sightsavers’ Equal World campaign for inclusive education for children with disabilities to be available, accessible and adequately funded.
Watch the video to see the statement, or read the full statement below.
I am speaking today on behalf of Sightsavers, an international organisation working to promote disability rights in around 30 countries globally.
Can I first of all congratulate all the new members of the CRPD committee. Through Sightsavers’ Equal World campaign we made the case for gender balance on the committee and we welcome that gender parity has now not only been achieved but now exceeded.
The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic has been unequally felt. Existing inequities and the lack of inclusive responses mean that the impact on persons with disabilities has been disproportionate. This is particularly the case for people who face multiple and intersecting forms of discrimination.
Women with disabilities have told us about the fear and uncertainty they have experienced, the lack of access services and increases in violence. One woman told us that, “This virus has changed us all. We are still wondering what will happen in the future.”
As we look towards this future, States Parties have a responsibility to make sure that they secure one which is equitable and inclusive of persons with disabilities.
COVID-19 brought to the forefront what we already knew – that progress on disability rights has been too slow. That exclusion is still built into the systems which impact on everyone’s ability to live a fulfilled and independent life. And this exclusion is made is even more severe in times of crisis.
Governments must ensure that the rights of persons with disabilities are systematically embedded into COVID-19 recovery plans – to make systems more inclusive now and future periods of crisis. It is critical that better data is collected, that policies are put in place – and that these include robust implementation plans and budgets which actually shift away from old models of exclusion. This must be done in proper co-production with organisations of persons with disabilities, in line with article 4.3 of the CPRD.
The United Nations, supported by members states, must ensure that the UN Disability Inclusion Strategy (UNDIS) is fully and systematically implemented. The Secretary-General highlighted that the lack of resources for UNDIS risk its implementation, and member states must take concrete steps to address this.
We welcome the focus on education at this year’s Conference of States Parties. The COVID-19 crisis has exacerbated an already existing learning crisis. Through Sightsavers’ Equal World campaign, we are calling on world leaders to invest in inclusive education. With the right education children with disabilities can not only learn, but also find and raise their voices and have choice and control over their lives. This will be a crucial part of an inclusive recovery.
The funding will go towards education for children in the world’s poorest countries, with a focus on girls’ education. Yet much more is needed to address the global learning crisis that has affected children worldwide.
UK government pledges £430m funding for education
At the G7 Summit being held this week in Cornwall, the UK government has pledged £430 million of new UK aid funding for education for children in the world’s poorest countries, with a focus on girls’ education.
The funding will go to the Global Partnership for Education.
Responding to the pledge, Sightsavers has acknowledged that this is a welcome start. But much more is needed to address the global learning crisis that has affected children around the world, particularly girls and boys with disabilities. Sightsavers has also called for additional funding to be committed at the upcoming Global Education Summit being held in London in July.
Dom Haslam, Sightsavers’ director of policy and programme strategy, said: “The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated the education crisis. This has seen education inequalities compounded for children who were already marginalised, including girls and boys with disabilities. The UK government, which is hosting the Global Education Summit next month, must demonstrate leadership on inclusive education by investing further and pushing other nations to help achieve the Global Partnership for Education’s £5 billion target. These financial commitments must be underpinned by policies that promote equity and equality, with targeted investment for children with disabilities.
“This commitment must also be viewed in the context of the wider cuts to the UK’s aid budget in the current and previous year. It is imperative that the ODA budget is returned to its former levels in the next financial year as the current cuts will impact on girls’ ability to participate in education, undermine the UK’s leadership, and reduce the ability of the UK government to call on other governments to step up.
“The UK government has committed to being a global leader on disability inclusion and has previously been instrumental in driving forward disability inclusion on the board of the Global Partnership for Education. It is critical that they continue to play this role.”
Thousands of our campaign supporters worldwide have signed the letter, calling on the leaders of the G7 to meet inclusive education commitments.
Equal World campaign letter on inclusive education gathers 21,526 signatures
More than 21,000 supporters of Sightsavers’ Equal World campaign from 119 countries have signed an open letter calling on the leaders of the G7 to meet their commitments to inclusive education for children with disabilities.
The open letter calls for G7 leaders to ensure inclusive, quality education is made available and accessible to children with disabilities, particularly girls, who are often disadvantaged on the grounds of gender as well as disability. It also calls for leaders to keep the promises they committed to as part of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, which aim to address global poverty and climate change.
Sightsavers campaign manager Ross McMullan said: “We’re delighted to have gained so many signatures. It’s vital that world leaders know they’re being watched and held accountable for meeting their commitments as stated in the SDGs and the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. Children with disabilities, and particularly girls, are at greater risk of missing out on education in the wake of the pandemic, and this represents a huge potential loss to society.”
The campaign is focusing on inclusive education during June and July as world leaders gather in the UK for the G7 Summit in Cornwall and Global Education Summit in London. The two summits are opportunities for progress to be made towards Sustainable Development Goal 4 – inclusive, quality education for all children – and the campaign hopes the pressure of public support will result in countries investing necessary funds and meeting the commitments made in the G7 girls’ education declaration.
An estimated 33 million children with disabilities in low and middle income countries were already out of school before the pandemic, and many children with disabilities who were attending school did not have their educational needs met during the pandemic as online learning platforms and virtual teaching were frequently inaccessible to them.
Watch the video to see a message for world leaders from children in Sierra Leone.
Sightsavers has called for commitments to be met to ensure girls with disabilities are able to receive an education.
G7 education declaration: Sightsavers calls for girls with disabilities to be prioritised
Sightsavers has welcomed news of a collective agreement signed by foreign and development ministers ahead of next month’s G7 summit, and has called for financial and political commitments to be met to achieve bold targets on girls’ education, particularly for girls with disabilities.
Dominic Haslam OBE, Sightsavers’ director of policy and programme strategy, said: “We welcome the G7 Girls’ Education Declaration, and the commitment to get 40 million more girls into education in low and lower middle income countries by 2026. We are particularly pleased about the commitment to put the most marginalised girls at the forefront of global efforts, ensuring girls with disabilities and those living in poverty are not left behind, something that Sightsavers is calling for through our Equal World campaign.
“The declaration sets out important steps to enable children with disabilities to access quality education. But these positive intentions must be followed with clear actions. It is crucial that the commitments in the declaration are backed up by strong, equitable financial allocations in the upcoming education opportunities this year brings and by inclusive approaches embedded within national education policies and programmes.
“Before the COVID-19 pandemic, an estimated 33 million children with disabilities in low and middle income countries were not in school. Children with disabilities, especially girls, are not only less likely to attend or complete school, but also more likely to be illiterate than children without disabilities. During the pandemic, the barriers to education facing children with disabilities have increased, and some may never return to school.
“While the global focus is on investment in education, this is an opportunity that cannot be missed to ensure that children with disabilities can learn, live independent lives and reach their full potential. The agreement signed today must be followed by concrete commitments at the G7 and Global Education summits. With the support of campaigners around the world, Sightsavers’ Equal World campaign is calling on leaders to take action to meet education targets in a way that will leave no child behind.
“We look forward to seeing these discussions continue at the G7 Summit in June. We call on world leaders to endorse the Girls’ Education Declaration and highlight the importance of ensuring education is equitable and inclusive in the G7 Summit Leaders Communiqué.”
Discover how Sightsavers’ innovations are improving the lives of people with disabilities through the Inclusive Futures programme.
Innovations for disability inclusion
If we are to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals, it is essential that we test new and innovative ways to open up employment opportunities for people with disabilities.
On World Creativity and Innovation Day (21 April), we are highlighting how our Inclusive Futures programme is testing new approaches to improve the lives of people with disabilities.
In Homa Bay, Kenya, Inclusive Futures is supporting a group of farmers with disabilities to make a living growing sorghum, a key ingredient in beer. The project equips the farmers with the skills and knowledge to grow the product, which they sell to East African Breweries Ltd, a company that has been working to make its supply chain inclusive of people with disabilities.
Christopher Abuor Okwachu, the group’s secretary, says: “In Homa Bay county, most people with disabilities were not given attention, so we thought of forming this group so we could fight for our interests. We have learned through practice by the mistakes we make.”
Jeniffer is one of the 39 farmers. She says: “Before I started planting sorghum I was a maize farmer for more than 10 years, but I was not getting enough money to eat. I thought maybe this training would help me move from poverty. We were taught how to plant, so we took the seed home and did as we had been instructed.”
Computer skills for young people with disabilities
In Kenya’s capital, Nairobi, Inclusive Futures is trialling a new initiative to equip young people with disabilities in information technology (IT) skills, needed for the jobs of the future. The Bridge Academy, launched in March 2021, is based on a training course that has seen huge success in the US, with over 90% of trainees graduating from the programme and entering employment.
Inclusive Futures saw the opportunity to bring the model to Kenya, where experts predict that technology will become a key driver of the economy. After graduating from the nine-month course, the young people will be set to launch their careers in IT. And as the project continues, IT employers will have an increasing pool of talent to draw from.
“In a post-COVID world, businesses need strong IT systems more than ever,” says Sarah Wang’ombe, Inclusive Futures Programme Officer. “People with disabilities can bring fresh new perspectives as services move online. Employers are also more likely to be flexible and accept remote working. It’s a win-win.”
In Nigeria, Inclusive Futures is developing a model of disability-inclusive education in eight schools with the aim of scaling it up. The SMILE project (Supporting Mainstreaming Inclusion so all can Learn Equally) is strengthening school management committees, which bridge a gap between schools and their local communities.
Working with the community has increased trust in the schools for local families and improved attendance rates among pupils. AA Awokson, head teacher at Wazari Aliyu primary school, says: “The things we have done in the school have encouraged others to come, because once the school tries to encourage them to participate in the classroom, the stories go out, people get to hear about it.
“[Parents] realise that if their children will be given such respect at that school, let’s get them enrolled there. Before this time, many parents would prefer leaving them at home, sending them for begging or things like that.”
Christy John Daniel, head teacher of Taka One Model Primary School, has seen the project’s impact in getting more children with disabilities learning and improving their future opportunities. “We use the committee to speak to parents on the importance of children with disabilities to be in school,” Christy says. “That is how we got a number of children with disability back into school. At my school we have sewing machines and we have tools for carpentry. We can teach them vocational and trading skills so they can be self-reliant, and they will not depend on their parents for life.”
For now, SMILE is in its initial stages, but Inclusive Futures will share learnings from the project to help the Nigerian government improve its approach to inclusive education across the country.
The evidence we generate from projects like the farmers’ group, the Bridge Academy and SMILE about how to include people with disabilities in development will be used to encourage and enable organisations to embed disability inclusion in their own work.
To find out more, visit www.inclusivefutures.org/innovation and follow #InclusiveFutures on Twitter and LinkedIn.
Inclusive Futures is funded by UK aid. It demonstrates the UK government’s commitment to global leadership on inclusive development by ensuring people with disabilities are central to international development policymaking and programmes.
Five women have been elected to the UN CRPD committee, answering Sightsavers’ Equal World campaign call for more diversity and gender equality.
UN disability committee achieves historic gender parity milestone
Six women have been elected* to the UN committee that monitors implementation of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, meaning gender parity has been achieved for the first time – a result that answers the call of Sightsavers’ Equal World campaign for the committee to better represent the people it exists to serve.
The committee is made up of 18 members, with nine positions up for election every two years. Sightsavers previously campaigned for better representation of women in the 2018 election, which saw the number of women on the committee grow from just one to six. In 2020, campaign supporters also called for greater diversity of members, including people with different types of impairment and people from low and middle income countries.
The six women elected are Rosa Idalia Aldana Salguero (Guatemala), Odelia Fitoussi (Israel), Gerel Dondovdorj (Mongolia), Soumia Amrani (Morocco), Vivian Fernández de Torrijo (Panama) and Saowalak Thongkuay (Thailand). This means that of the 18-member committee, 12 members will be women.
Other positive results of the vote include the re-election of Sir Robert Martin from New Zealand, who is the first member of the committee with an intellectual disability.
Tessa Murphy, Sightsavers’ campaign manager, said: “Our campaign supporters from across the globe played a leading role in securing this long-awaited change with nearly 4,000 campaigners sending messages to their UN representatives to uphold disability rights, and call for gender equality and diversity on the CRPD committee. Thanks to their support we now have a committee that better reflects the very different challenges faced by women and men with disabilities. While we’re happy to see Sir Robert Martin re-elected, there is still a need for better representation of impairment, and more members from low income countries. But we’re thrilled to have finally reached the goal of gender parity on the committee.”
*This news story was updated following confirmation of the ninth member, who was voted on to the committee on 11 December 2020 after the third round of voting (following the election of eight people on 30 November).
Meet the teams that Sightsavers partners with around the world to help them foster more disability inclusive workplaces.
The businesses embracing disability inclusion
Sightsavers partners with companies around the world to help them foster more inclusive working environments for people with disabilities.
Through the Inclusive Futures Initiative Work stream, Sightsavers has helped corporate teams in Bangladesh, Kenya, Nigeria and Uganda to recruit and support employees with disabilities in a range of professions. Here, they share their success stories.
East African Breweries Limited, based in Kenya, was passionate about pioneering new disability inclusive practices in the workplace and looked to Sightsavers for guidance. “One of the challenges we had before was that we didn’t know how to do it,” says Eric Kiniti, corporate relations director at the company. Implementing changes such as new recruitment practices and conducting accessibility audits of the office can be tricky for businesses to navigate without the experience and expertise behind them – and this is where Sightsavers comes in.
“But now we’ve found a credible partner who’s done this before, we’re very excited that we are able to roll this out,” Eric adds. “They bring expertise that we don’t have… I think it’s a very valued partnership.”
The Inclusive Futures Work stream is helping to make practical changes to the way companies train and hire people with disabilities. Since 2018, the programme has been testing innovative ways to help more people access employment in four countries: Bangladesh, Kenya, Nigeria and Uganda. The programme works with private sector companies to help them become more attractive workplaces for people with disabilities and more confident in hiring and training employees with different types of impairment.
Munyori Evans, head of human resources for Standard Chartered bank in Nairobi, is passionate about improving diversity among his staff. Partnering with Sightsavers brought the knowledge and experience the company needed to put ideas into practice: “We are stepping into this now with a bit more information in our hands and with a bit more confidence that this is doable and institutions and organisations like ours need to do this,” he states. “All of that requires partnership and there is no single institution that can do that alone, and that is why I’m calling out for private and public [institutions] to come together. That is what excites me about this partnership.”
Munyori has witnessed the benefits of the fresh perspectives people with disabilities can offer. “The experience for me has been eye opening,” he says. “It’s been a learning journey. [The employees] have challenged us on how our building looks [in terms of accessibility], what we need to take care of in terms of the systems and the processes.”
The new approach has also enhanced the services they provide. One of their employees who has a visual impairment worked with them to develop more accessible online materials. Munyori notes: “That produced a deliberate attempt to then say, ‘how do we ensure that our learning programmes are well-geared towards the visually impaired?’ And, now we have accessible programmes for the visually impaired, which we continue to develop.”
Inclusive Futures tackles low employment rates among people with disabilities by working with companies to develop more inclusive recruitment practices. Ikeja Electric, a power supplier for sub-Saharan Africa based in Lagos, Nigeria, collaborated with Sightsavers to make adjustments to its practices. “For us, we do not look for the typical things that most employers look out for, which is more around what educational qualifications you bring on the table,” says Henry Ajibola, the company’s chief human resource and administration officer. “We look at things like creativity, problem solving, how analytical you are, and what value you create at work.”
So far, the new approach has helped them bring two employees with disabilities on board who are excelling in their new roles. “They bring tenaciousness, resilience to their work, and dedication,” adds Henry. “Those are the things they bring on a daily basis that have made them stand out in the work that they do.”
Deus Turyatemba, who has a visual impairment, works as a sustainability manager at Standard Chartered Bank in Uganda, overseeing the bank’s diversity and inclusion agenda. But 10 years ago, as a young graduate with a disability, he struggled to find employment until he was hired by Standard Chartered, which has a strong ethos of embracing diversity and inclusion. “I credit my own success to having found an inclusive workplace where I have been able to develop and apply my talents. My hope is that the [Inclusive Futures initiative] will make this a possibility for many more young people in Uganda and beyond.”
“At Standard Chartered we are more than happy to be part of the initiative. Building on our past experience we are optimistic that we can play a fantastic role in shaping the future of people with disabilities.”
In Uganda, the Federation of Ugandan Employers has been building the case for inclusive employment with businesses in the country. “The starting point is information,” says the Federation’s CEO, Douglas Opio. “This is what we’ve been doing together with partners like Sightsavers… What we have been trying to do is raise some awareness, in other words to make employers disability confident. Some of them have their doubts, but of course when you explain to them of course they understand what needs to be done.”
Working closely with HR managers is key in helping companies implement policies to hire people with disabilities and make reasonable accommodations for them, such as providing information in braille. “It doesn’t happen accidentally but deliberately,” Douglas adds. “If you have a policy in place then that can be done.”
Another organisation implementing inclusive policies is Shwapno, a supermarket chain in Bangladesh. Sabir Hasan Nasir, the company’s CEO, is passionate about hiring people with disabilities: “While others discriminate and don’t recruit [people with impairments], we look forward to having them on board in our organisation.”
The chain’s head of HR, Shah Md. Rijyi Rony, shares the same belief and has worked with Sightsavers to diversify new recruits. “Because we want a diverse workforce, we try to look at the skills a candidate has or what skills they can develop and how we can match a job to those skills. We don’t only hope they will progress to management; that’s in our policy. We want a workforce that is gender inclusive, that is disability inclusive.”
“For us, working with [civil society] partners like Sightsavers is the way to go,” says Henry from Ikeja Electric. He found that his business benefited hugely from the support and expertise Inclusion Works offered when Ikeja began its journey to becoming more inclusive. “A lot of organisations will struggle [with] how they can fit into that agenda of inclusiveness, which is where partners like Sightsavers come into play, to support organisations like ours.”
Once you’ve gathered the knowledge as an organisation, Henry’s advice to other employers is to just take the plunge. “If the person has the capability to do the work, make those provisions within the organisation, restructure your workspaces, ensure that the right work tools to enable these individuals to be successful in the workplace are put in place.”
Emmanuel Michael, head of human capital at Letshego Finance, a microfinance bank based in Lagos, Nigeria, is also encouraging other employers to hire people with disabilities and support them to achieve their potential. “The important thing is to identify what is the strength of this particular person that we want to bring on board, what can they do? And then we position them in the area where they have a strength for.”
“I’m calling an all employers in Nigeria and outside Nigeria, to go out there, identify people living with disabilities, identify their strength areas and how they can help to improve their businesses,” Emmanuel adds.
The Chartered Institute of Personnel Management, also based in Nigeria, worked with Sightsavers successfully to make its recruitment practices more inclusive for people with disabilities. “We are very excited at the institute that we are beginning to play a key role in driving this conversation… I would like to strongly, very strongly recommend Inclusive Futures Work Stream to employers out there,” says Gbenga Totoye, director for membership and market development at the institute.
Are you interested in taking the next step to ensure your business is a more inclusive workplace for all? Take advantage of our employers’ toolkit, a portfolio of practical guides, checklists, case studies and resources which make it easier for any business to deliver the best practice we call ‘disability confidence’. Find out more about the toolkit here.
Inclusive Futures is funded by UK aid. It demonstrates the UK government’s commitment to global leadership on inclusive development by ensuring people with disabilities are central to international development policymaking and programmes.
The report highlights the progress made since the strategy was published and shows the key lessons that have been learnt during that time.
FCDO publishes progress report on disability inclusion
The Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) has published a report on its progress towards the UK government’s disability inclusion strategy, which was launched in December 2018.
The report highlights the progress made in the 18 months since the strategy was published (by what was then the Department for International Development) and shows the key lessons that have been learnt during that time.
Hannah Loryman, head of policy for Sightsavers, said: “The new FCDO report builds on the huge progress that the Department for International Development had been making since the International Development Committee inquiry and first Disability Framework that was published in 2014. It is positive to see the progress made in mainstreaming disability – with all offices now having a disabiltiy champion in place and a 36 per cent rise in programmes marked as disability-inclusive since 2017. It is also positive to see that some countries, such as Nigeria, have begun to work towards meeting the ‘higher achievement’ standards set out in the strategy. It is critical that work continues to ensure that all countries meet the standards as soon as possible.
She continued: “While the report shows progress has been made, there is still a lot to do to make sure the FCDO can meet its ambition and commitments on disability inclusion – in particular, the strategy needs to be updated for the FCDO and embedded across the department’s work. It is also critical that the influencing role that DFID played is built upon and that the FCDO uses its global leadership to support and influence others to do more in this important area.”
The publication of a disability inclusion strategy by the UK government was the first call of Sightsavers’ policy campaign (then known as Put Us in the Picture) for disability back in 2013. The launch of the framework in 2014 was an early campaign success, and in 2018 the publication of the UK government’s disability inclusion strategy marked a major campaign milestone. Sightsavers supporters have continued to call for world leaders to be held accountable for their commitments on disability inclusion through the organisation’s Equal World campaign.