Welcome to the Capstone Seminar on Inclusive Sustainable Development, where we highlight the Global “Grand Challenge” of Disability and Development

In September 2000, world Leaders gathered at United Nations Headquarters in New York for the Millennium Summit.  At this summit, they adopted the United Nations Millennium Declaration, which included 8 time-bound targets called the Millennium Development Goals (or MDGs).  These MDGs were aimed at developing a new global partnership to reduce poverty by the year 2015.  Unfortunately, disability issues were completely absent from the MDGs.  Subsequently, on 13 December 2006, the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) was adopted, and became the first human rights treaty of the 21st century. This seminar will enable you to explore these policy developments and focus on enhancing your understanding of disability-inclusive development.

Weekly Blog Posts

Throughout the semester each seminar participant will submit at least ten (10) blog posts. Blog posts should address your thoughts and reflections on any issue being discussed that week. Each blog post should be around 400 words, and will be organized under one of ten pre-determined categories: 1. Grand Challenges; 2. Development Theory; 3. SDGs and HLPF; 4. Efficacy of Global Frameworks; 5. ICTs and Sustainable Development; 6. Digital Divide(s); 7. Multistakeholder Global Governance; 8. Smart Cities and Employment; 9. Inclusive Education; and, 10. Intersectionality in Sustainable Development.

Opportunities and Limitations of Global Strategic Frameworks

A theme common across the readings is the issue of using neoliberal frameworks in development agendas. Su-ming Khoo writes, “we should not underestimate the problems accompanying the key assumption that the chosen means of economic growth and market liberalisation will lead to the ends of human development, especially from a rights perspective,” going on to discuss how market oriented policies are questionable in fulfilling rights-centered goals (Khoo 48). This criticism of neoliberalism and its failure to achieve rights-based goals, another criticism of global strategic frameworks, specifically the MDGs, is that agendas should move from being needs-based to being rights-based (Kett et al. 658). When moving to a rights-based agenda, it is essential that first, disability be regarded as a human rights issue, as this recognition has been long-neglected (Lord 312). Kett et al. build on this by stating that disability has for too long been a secondary issue in the international development field (Kett et al. 656). I find the exclusion of persons with disabilities from international development research and global strategic frameworks contradictory because this field intends to improve the lives of the most marginalized, yet it excludes one of the most marginalized groups, persons with disabilities, who experience compounding oppressions.

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Intersectionality and Disability-Inclusive Development

Intersectionality is a term coined by professor Kimberlé Crenshaw in 1989. This term describes how race, class, gender, and other individual characteristics “intersect” with one another and overlap (Coaston). In other words, identities are complex and multiple. The term “intersecting identities’ was used by organizers in the 2017 Women’s March to describe how people are “impacted by a multitude of social justice and human rights issues” (Coaston). Intersectionality is essential to inclusive sustainable development because it can provide an understanding of the exclusion that we currently see in development initiatives. For example, development initiatives that address violence against women of color can be co-opted by identity politics, which often conflate and ignore intra group differences (Crenshaw 1). Violence against women is shaped by other dimensions of identity aside from gender, such as race and class (Crenshaw 1). This is just one example of many that elucidate how oftentimes, identity politics play a larger role in policy-making and development programs than intersectionality. We must change the perception and the narrative from one of identity politics to one of intersectionality.

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Multistakeholder Global Internet Governance and Sustainable Development

The multistakeholder governance framework is composed of three key ideas: “open-ended unleashed innovation,” “decentralized governance institutions,” and “open and inclusive processes,” as stated in the article “Internet Governance – Why the Multistakeholder Approach Works” In other words, multistakeholder governance focuses on infrastructure, governance, and humans. This article notes that multistakeholder decision-making is effective and sustainable, which is relevant to our inquiry on inclusive sustainable development. Rather than thinking of the multistakeholder approach as a single solution/model, we should think of it as a tool system that prioritizes “individuals and organizations from different realms participating alongside each other to share ideas or develop consensus policy” (“Internet Governance”). Thus, solutions and models under the multistakeholder framework may differ in some ways, yet they will all prioritize open and inclusive participation from different perspectives. In relation to the Internet ecosystem, the article states that “the Internet’s governance reflects the Internet itself: open, distributed, interconnected, and trans-national.” As the Internet ecosystem grows, public and private organizations rely not just on the Internet, but also on the multistakeholder approach, which mirrors the “Internet way of doing things” (“Internet Governance”). Following the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) in 2005, many international and multilateral organizations have come out in support of the multistakeholder approach, including the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) in 2008 and the NETmundial conference in 2014, among many others (“Internet Governance”). The article notes that as the Internet evolves, so will the multistakeholder approach. As the multistakeholder approach evolves, certain attributes should be maintained, such as inclusiveness and transparency, collective responsibility, effective decision-making, and collaboration through distributed and interoperable governance (“Internet Governance”). It is incredibly exciting and important that in addition to being characterized as sustainable, as mentioned above, multistakeholder approaches are also working towards inclusiveness. This approach seems to really fit with our class themes. Outside of this class, I have not heard much about multistakeholder governance/approaches, and I am interested in the reason behind this. I feel that this approach is relevant not just in Internet governance or in inclusive sustainable development, but in many other aspects of life (e.g., in discussions on power hierarchies, political representation, public policy, the bureaucracy of the education system, etc.).

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Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) and Inclusive Sustainable Development

ICTs are critical to inclusive sustainable development as our world transitions to technology-dependent interactions/productions/goods. In the Maitland Commission Report, it is stated that telecommunication is taken for granted “as a key factor in economic, commercial, and social activity and as a prime source of cultural enrichment” in industrialized countries while in developing countries, telecommunications systems are “inadequate to sustain essential services” (3). Therefore, ICTs are critical to inclusive sustainable development because of their economic, social, commercial, and cultural benefits. Further, ICTs help sustain essential services, such as healthcare, education, finances, etc. The Maitland Commission Report goes so far as to say that “the existence of an efficient telecommunications system confers direct and indirect benefits which entitle it to be regarded as a public good” (8). As a public good, ICTs are important in situations of emergencies and for health services, and can “reduce the need to travel and facilitate better use of existing transport facilities,” to name a few of its uses (9). The ITU Matrix linking SDGs and WSIS Action Lines outlines different benefits and uses of ICTs. For example, action line C2 states that infrastructure is necessary to achieving digital inclusion and affordable ICT access, highlighting the importance of infrastructure in the promotion of ICTs. Action line C3 on access to information and knowledge portrays how ICTs “allow people, anywhere in the world, to access information and knowledge almost instantaneously,” continuing that instant access to knowledge and information is beneficial. 

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Inclusive Education

The G3ICT Model Policy for Inclusive Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) for Persons with Disabilities focuses on how ICTs can be used to support the implementation of the CRPD, specifically articles 9 (accessibility), 21 (freedom of expression and opinion, and access to information), and 24 (inclusive education) of the CRPD (7). The Policy states that “access to ICTs that support participation in learning opportunities for learners with disabilities is…an international policy imperative” (10). This Model Policy also cites UNESCO’s 2009 definition of inclusive education: “inclusive education is a process of strengthening the capacity of the education system to reach out to all learners…As an overall principle, it should guide all education policies and practices, starting from the fact that education is a basic human right and the foundation for a more just and equal society” (10). I found interesting that there are many international frameworks/initiatives that call for inclusive education, such as the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the 1960 Convention against Discrimination in Education, and the 1989 Convention on the Rights of the Child, yet, inclusive education is not universalized. I understand that progress is not simple, but I would think that further progress should be made. This leads me to ask: 1) How do we hold nations accountable when they commit to implementing an international framework? 2) Is there a system of checks and balances? 3) Are there consequences for not following through on commitments?

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Disaster Risk Reduction and Disaster Risk Management

This week’s readings pointed to important frameworks and forums on disaster risk reduction (DRR) and disaster risk management (DRM): the Sendai Framework, the Dhaka Declaration, the Global Platform for Disaster Risk Reduction (GP), and the Global Facility for Disaster Risk Reduction and Recovery (GFDRR). Each of these frameworks/forums are interrelated and support the goals of one another. However, I found that most of these frameworks/forums mostly referenced the Sendai Framework as the basis for much of their work. The Sendai Framework builds on the Hyogo Framework for Action (Sendai Framework 12) and one of its goals over the next 15 years is to substantially reduce disaster risk and losses in lives, livelihoods across many areas of life for persons, business, communities and countries (Sendai Framework 12). The Framework notes that achieving the above stated outcome requires integrated and inclusive leadership in the participation and implementation processes (Sendai Framework 12). Of note in the Sendai Framework is its mention of persons with disabilities and universal design, an initiative that supports the needs of persons with disabilities. The fourth guiding principle of the Sendai Framework is to promote inclusion of those “disproportionately affected by disasters” in DRM, calling for the recognition of persons with disabilities among other marginalized and vulnerable groups (Sendai Framework 13). The Dhaka Declaration on Disability and Disaster Risk Management was adopted in 2015 at the Dhaka Conference on Disability & Disaster Risk Management. Hosting this conference in Dhaka, Bangladesh was meaningful as Dhaka has experienced many unfortunate disasters themselves, such as the 2012 garment factory fire and the seasonal monsoons that bring immense flooding. Important points highlighted in the Declaration include the common theme that data on disability is limited (Dhaka Declaration 1). Additionally, I found surprising and sad that while the exposure of persons, properties, and livelihoods globally to disasters has increased more rapidly than our ability to reduce both risk and vulnerabilities (Dhaka Declaration1). The GP 2017 was held in Cancun, Mexico and its Leaders’ Forum for Disaster Risk Reduction report mentions ‘vulnerable development’ and ‘vulnerable poor,’ but makes no mention of ‘disability’ or ‘persons with disabilities.’ I found this surprising and disappointing. The GFDRR helps with the implementation of the Sendai Framework by integrating DRM and climate change adaptation into development strategies and investment projects. I am interested to learn more about the GFDRR’s inclusion of persons with disabilities in their decision-making on funding. 

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The World Urban Forum

The World Urban Forum (WUF) is convened by the UN-Habitat in the United Nations Settlements Programme (“Kuala Lumpur to Host”). The WUF was established in 2001 and was created to address the timely issue of rapid urbanization and its effects on cities, communities, climate change, economies, and policies (“About WUF”). Many different descriptions of the WUF characterize the Forum as inclusive and as having high-level participation (“About WUF”).

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Inclusive Smart Cities

Cities can be made inclusive and accessible once old models of disability that ignore spatiality are replaced by new models of disability that address spatiality. Pineda’s article, Enabling Justice: Spatializing Disability in the Built Environment,” reaffirms the importance of how physical space and the environment can enable or disable individuals (111). Further, Pineda explains how “contemporary legal definitions of disability are not overtly spatial” (112) when spatiality is an essential part of how persons with disabilities navigate their environment. Challenging the definition of disability to include spatiality, a central component of the environment that brings about discrimination and injustice for persons with disabilities, would “radically and fundamentally alter our understanding of equal rights” (Pineda 112). Pineda offers a new socio-spatial model of disability that aims to challenge dominant models of disability, such as the charity, medical, and personal tragedy models, that assign blame to individuals and ignore the importance of the environment in hindering persons with disabilities. The socio-spatial model of disability recognizes how “physical barriers are unjust and oppressive” (Pineda 117), which reveals that under this new model of disability, personal freedom is inherently valued. In sum, cities can be made inclusive and accessible once the distribution of space is realized. Pineda argues that this recognition “is an important aspect of realizing justice for disabled persons” (122). 

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The Role of the High-Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development

The High-Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development (HLPF) “has a central role in the follow-up and review of the 2030 Agenda and the SDGs,” according to the Sustainable Development Goals site page dedicated to the HLPF. The HLPF meets annually under the Economic and Social Council and meets every four years under the General Assembly (“High-Level Political Forum”). Notably, the Forum asks member states to “conduct regular and inclusive reviews at the national and sub-national levels, which are country-led and country-driven” (“High-Level Political Forum”). These national reviews are used by the HLPF when they conduct their review process (“High-Level Political Forum”). The HLPF works well in the sense that it allows countries to conduct their own, voluntary reviews that are used as the basis for the Forum’s review. This allows for experts, government organizations, and civil society organizations to participate in the specific country’s Voluntary National Review. Further, this allows for the report to be grounded in the country’s specific context, which is often left out in development discourse that traditionally imposes the West’s perception of global development. Country context is essential to assessing the progress of the SDGs. The HLPF could be improved to promote inclusive sustainable development by implementing accountability measures for those members on the Forum. How are these members chosen for the Forum? Do these members represent the diversity of both the SDGs (including experts on poverty, education, water, energy, etc.) and the member states (including representation from different countries in different regions)? 

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Sen’s Development as Freedom

Conceptual frameworks are important in development studies because they provide a lens through which research is conducted, showing what types of data are needed to address the problem at hand (Sumner and Tribe 82). Frameworks also provide a more nuanced analysis of research and analysis. To begin, it may be helpful to describe Sen’s concept of development as freedom before discussing how the framework can inform disability-inclusive development projects. In simple terms, Sen’s development of freedom concept states that development should allow individuals freedoms and capabilities to live the lives they desire and value (Sen 18). Sen’s framework involves both the processes of allowing freedom of behavior and the substantive opportunities to live freely (Sen 17). In other words, development as freedom entails securing the processes by which individuals can attain freedoms and the resulting opportunities that such freedom allows. Two important reasons for prioritizing individual freedom in development are the ability to evaluate society and the promotion of societal effectiveness. Success of society can be evaluated based on the freedoms that people have (Sen 18), a view that is not utilitarian but rather is more humanizing. Freedom also determines individual motivation and hence, social effectiveness (Sen 18). Thus, people’s ability to help themselves in turn helps society. Sen’s framework aligns with the notion of development as a “friendly” process, a view that exchanges can be mutually beneficial, similar to Adam Smith’s argument regarding international trade (Sen 36). Sen’s framework highlights the need to ignore common conceptions that human development (Sen 143), the establishment of social opportunities that benefit human’s capabilities and quality of life (Sen 144), is a luxury in which only rich nations can afford to engage (Sen 143). Sen argues that this belief hinders human development globally and believes that the ability for human development to take place is not limited to a country’s economic situation. 

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