The transition from the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) was an incredible leap towards effective development that includes persons with disabilities. The identification of actors and their roles in inclusive sustainable development along with the conceptual formalization of development studies provides refection and evaluation on the effectives of development as we understand it now.
The SDGs are an upgrade from the MDGs in two crucial ways: (1) They include 11 points that directly discuss and include persons with disabilities in the development goals and (2) they outline clear goals, targets, and indicators that were fare more vague in the MDGs. The SDGs were preceded by the UN’s Convention on the Rights on Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) which was signed in March of 2007. Most countries ratified the CRPD articles in 2008; the United States has signed the Convention, but failed to pass the ratification process through the Senate in 2012. The SDGs and the articles of the CRPD work as a cross walk on issues on sustainable development and the inclusion of persons with disabilities.
Together, the SDGs and the CRPD articles have achieved a great feat of being included in the UN High-Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development (HLPF). The HLP was created from the UN Conference on Sustainable Development in Rio de Janeiro in 2012. The HLPF meets annually under the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) and every four years under the UN General Assembly with Heads of State and Government. The main role of the HLPF is to review and measure the progress of the 2030 SDGs agenda and provide recommendation and guidance. The execution of the SDGs and their collaboration with the CRPD articles in including persons of disabilities under the review of the HPLF reflect the discussion by Andy Summer and Michael Tribe (2008) on the values of rigor, research, and practice of development.
The SDGs, CRPD articles, and the work of the HLPF can be seen as positive responses to Amartya Sen’s Development as Freedom (1999). An academic and scholar ahead of his time in the development field, Sen’s views on development focused on the multidimensional aspects of development as the means and ends to freedom. Furthermore, Sen consistently includes persons of disabilities throughout his book along with other marginalized groups such as indigenous communities, minorities, and women, among others. The latter half of the book discusses the crucial role of democracy and development, the reality of food security issues, individual agency, social change, culture, and human rights.
Arie Rimmerman (2013) is in discussion with Sen on the issues of inclusion and socio-cultural change in regarding excluded groups, but focusses more directly on persons with disabilities. The first few chapters of his book highlight the historical roots and social stigmas of people with disabilities. Following a similar conceptual framework as Summer and Tribe (2008), Rimmerman defines social exclusion as “poor social cohesion” (p. 35) and social inclusion is exactly the opposite of that. He critiques the portrayal of persons with disabilities in historical and contemporary forms of literature and media that demonizes and reinstates negative stigmas of disabilities. Later on in his book, Rimmerman will extrapolate upon the CRPD and their role as an actor to incorporate persons with disabilities within the SDGs agendas.
Rimmerman, A. (2013). Social Inclusion of People with Disabilities: National and International Perspective. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press.
Sen, A. (1999). Freedom as Development. New York, NY: Random House, Inc.
Summer, A. & Michael, T. (2008). International Development Studies: Theories and Methods in Research and Practice. London: SAGE Publications LTD.