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.

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?

Continue reading

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. 

Continue reading

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”).

Continue reading

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). 

Continue reading

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)? 

Continue reading

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. 

Continue reading

Disability-Inclusive Development as a Global Grand Challenge

In a presentation by Tom Kalil, grand challenges are defined as “ambitious yet achievable goals that capture the public’s imagination and that require innovation and breakthroughs in science and technology to achieve” (Kalil). Disability-inclusive development can be considered a “global grand challenge” as the goal is “ambitious yet achievable” (Kalil) without current solutions/means to reaching the goal. The goal is ambitious as it represents a reality not currently experienced and involves making the world more accessible to persons with disabilities, a long contested issue. The fact that disability rights and accessibility have been considered a political issue has made the global grand challenge of disability-inclusive development more challenging to achieve. This goal is achievable as some progress towards reaching disability-inclusive development has been made, such as through the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which prohibits discrimination based on disability and provides reasonable accommodations to employees. While the ADA represents some progress towards disability-inclusive development, there is much more progress to be made in order for such development to be truly inclusive. Kalil also writes that grand challenges “should capture the public’s imagination;” while the challenge of realizing disability-inclusive development is of public urgency, it is also one that will likely require innovation and/or scientific discovery, which is motivating and exciting. This challenge is compelling as disability-inclusivity advocacy is gaining ever-more strength in the political and social worlds today with the fight for disability inclusivity focusing on different areas, such as public policy, education, politics, and transportation. 

The USAID’s web page titled “Grand Challenges for Development” states that through USAID’s programs that involve governments, corporations, and foundations to focus on certain issues, “USAID and public and private partners bring in new voices to solve development problems.” USAID’s approach of utilizing new voices to confront grand challenges represents a model that the challenge of disability-inclusive development can follow, as diverse resources and voices that perhaps have more experience and/or knowledge on disabilities and disability-inclusivity can lead to more effective solutions to the issue. Have “new voices” been brought in to examine the grand challenge of disability-inclusive development in the past? If not, could this be a reason for why the goal of reaching disability-inclusive development has not been fully recognized? 

How do the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) promote disability-inclusive development? The United Nations’ Department of Economic and Social Affairs published an article titled “Mainstreaming disability in the development agenda” which argues that “there is a strong bidirectional link between poverty and disability.” As the first Millennium Development Goal is to “eradicate extreme poverty and hunger” while the other MDGs also aim to reduce poverty in different ways (“Millennium Development Goals and Beyond 2015”), the MDGs must have, in some way, promoted disability-inclusive development. I need to do more research to understand better the specific ways in which progress in disability-inclusive development has been achieved as a result of the MDGs and SDGs.The article states that while the MDGs brought attention to persons with disabilities, there is little discourse over the significance of how persons with disabilities are disproportionately represented in the population that the MDGs seek to help. Additionally, leaving persons with disabilities out of all development activities will hinder achieving the MDGs. I will infer that the same logic applies to achieving the SDGs: ignoring persons with disabilities when aiming to reach every SDG will hinder achieving the SDGs. I am interested in learning more about if disability-inclusivity had any explicit influence, if any, when crafting the MDGs and SDGs.

For my capstone, I am interested in incorporating my interests in global health into the discussion of disability-inclusive development and sustainable development. Sustainable Development Goal 3 aims to “ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages” (“Goals”). Do health and well-being include health for persons of disabilities as well? For example, are physical access, treatment, and medicines for persons with disabilities included in the promotion of health and well-being? I need to do more research on this question to understand how persons with disabilities are either included or excluded from this goal. I am interested in how health and well-being for persons with disabilities can be included in SDG 3 sustainably in regard to cost, resources/resource allocation, and longevity.

Development Theory

 

            As aforementioned on my previous blog, Development is a complex term and its understanding is conceptualized in many ways. Personally, I find issue in defining development by using economic terms and growth rates or GDPs that many times say very little about the situation and are inflated/manipulated by public officials and/or represent a privileged minority. This is why I believed I found much interest in the way Amartya Sen correlated development to freedom. I found much understanding to her perception of development, yet I also found it limited to an extent. There is an imperative need for politicians, economists and anyone who has influence over policies to understand that development is not and cannot be represented by poverty alleviation. It is and extremely limited and mainstream perception that will not bring any substantive change. This is why I resonated with Sen’s argument which focused more on the humanity of developmentand the experiences of individuals; more specifically their freedoms. However, while I believe this is an important element of development and how it can be defined it is also limited. There are several factors such as health, education, equality that fall under one of the five categories Sen used to define freedom. However, there are many other examples of freedom that do not influence the overall well-being of a society. Freedom most definitely is an important element and an ultimate goal; but by fixating ourselves in specific ideals of freedom we once again lose the complexity of developmentand its priorities. Development is a very complex area of study that has very diverse beliefs; I personally have obtained my idea of development by incorporating many of these ideas together. 

            This idea of development, however, is also extremely based on what I have conceptualized freedom and development to be defined in the context of what I have seen, Honduras. This is why there is such difficulty in reaching consensus, because the context with each one of us defined development is incredibly distinct. As a result, I don’t believe there is or there should by one overarching definition that applies to all, as it would have to be incredibly vague and lack character. Just as there are different means and strategies through which countries reach development there should also be different way of conceptualizing it. This becomes a little difficult whenever professionals would like to compare and contrast the degree of development between countries, and for that I have yet to find a solution. But I believe and important first step is to come to the conclusion that development is complex and different in every country, and as a result the way it is defined is incredibly influenced by the context of the region one was in. 

Grand Challenges

            Being a Honduran and having lived in Honduras I was able to understand the grasp and complexity of development. We live in a time and age where poverty-ridden countries are expected to combat poverty, economic stagnation, and a myriad of other problems through sustainable means. And while this is a necessary and primordial clause; it is an incredibly difficult one to understand. I have personally seen, how for many political leaders, sustainability is not a priority. However, as we have seen and continue seeing, it is one of our biggest threats. It is easy to look at the past and find a plethora of activities that led to progress and economic achievement through the exploitation of natural resources at the expense of the environment. For many countries, this was the fastest way they believed growth and development could be achieved. Today, however, those countries who want to achieve the same level of growth and economic stability, are forced to find different and more complex and costly means to do so. There is an exponentially alarming call for countries to achieve these development goals sustainably, for there to be a change in our modus operandi. This, however, is a challenge that must be implemented by every country collectively. 

            As expected, every country will have different ways and different priorities in their implementation of these sustainable development goals, in fact, even different strategies of implementation. It is important to take into consideration how the level of difficulty for developing countries increases, and what the expectations for those countries should be. I am a firm believer that every country should do their best to implement these sustainable development goals; yet, I also do believe that many of these developing countries will need the support of the international developed community to do so most effectively. As well as the contribution of different fields of knowledge and experience that will lead and provide the guidance necessary for the achievement of these goals, leading to the innovation of new strategies and methods that’s will compel leaders in these disciplines to continue and expand their efforts. 

These sustainable development goals fall under the definition of Grand Challenges for a reason. Grand Challengescan be defined as ambitious but achievable goals that harness science, technology, and innovation to solve important national or global problems and that have the potential to capture the public’s imagination”. SDG’Sare the perfect example of Grand Challenges, as they fall under every criterion that defines one.  In fact, even its name is an accurate representation of what these goals are for most developing countries; however, despite their difficulty, it is imperative for them to be achieved. 

Intersectionalities in the SDGs

Intersectionality is defined as the interconnected nature of social categorizations such as race, class, and gender as they apply to a given individual or group. Simply put, intersectionality is the overlaps of systems, experiences, or identities. This term is a huge buzzword in the social sciences field and in academia broadly and is taught as a theory or lens of which to look at social situations critically through. The UN Sustainable Development Goals are a great framework to critically look at with an intersectional lens. The SDGs are categorized by People, Planet, Prosperity, Peace, and Partnerships which all overlap with each other, are codependent on each other to be achieved, and are therefore intersectionality related and should be approached as such. You cannot achieve SDG 1: No Poverty without addressing SDG 8: Decent Work and Economic Growth, which can’t be achieved without the implications that come with SDG 11: Sustainable Cities and Communities which is directly tied to SDG 13: Climate Action which is has extreme implications for both SDG 14 & 15: Life Below Water and Life on Land which cannot be achieved without SDG 17: Partnership for the Goals, upon which all the goals are connected to. The overlaps and the realities of all the SDGs are tied to, hinged on, have implications for, and are only achievable through addressing one another – that is at the heart of intersectionality and arguably sustainability broadly.


Sustainabilty like intersectionality depends on the observer to look critically at the overlaps, the points of contact, that social, environemtnal, and economic realms make with themselves and with each other. How decisions in one realm have implications and ramifications for the others and the decoupling of them in most cases is not an option. The SDGs are a great global framework to look to in how intersectionality is both vital for success an easily interpretable. Intersectionality for the SDGs isn’t an option it is the only viable avenue.

https://sdg.guide/chapter-1-getting-to-know-the-sustainable-development-goals-e05b9d17801