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.