Over the last five years, the World Bank has finally recognized the importance of including persons with disabilities in the development agenda and acknowledged that it cannot achieve its twin goals of ending extreme poverty and boosting shared prosperity without disability inclusion. Despite the positive impact the Bank’s Environmental and Social Framework and 2018 Global Disability Summit (GDS) commitments have had on increasing references to persons with disabilities in project documents, the design and implementation of many projects remain inaccessible, preventing persons with disabilities from accessing project benefits. In our conversations with Bank teams, many stress that they don’t know how to make projects disability-inclusive and are therefore unable to fully implement the Bank’s disability commitments. Fundamentally, the Bank will not be able to achieve its existing GDS commitments without proactively and meaningfully engaging persons with disabilities because they are instrumental to understanding how the Bank can make education, post-disaster reconstruction, and urban mobility and rail projects, among others, disability-inclusive. As engagement with organizations of persons with disabilities is a key theme of the second GDS, which is taking place February 16 - 17, 2022, now is the time for the Bank to develop a robust plan to meaningfully consult persons with disabilities and their representative organizations.
The Bank-funded National Agricultural Advisory Services (NAADS) project in Uganda exemplifies how engaging persons with disabilities and organizations of persons with disabilities directly impact project outcomes. In one district where the National Union of Disabled Persons of Uganda (NUDIPU) actively engaged the district government, persons with disabilities benefitted, but in another district where NUDPU was not engaged, persons with disabilities were unable to benefit from the project. While the Bank has produced a Guidance Note that defines what “disability-inclusive” means in education projects and recognizes stakeholder engagement as a core pillar for disability-inclusive education, our discussions with Bank teams demonstrate that robust engagement is still not happening systematically in education projects nor other sectors with GDS commitments.
To help task teams and implementing agencies foster meaningful engagement with persons with disabilities and fulfill disability commitments, we recommend the Bank:
- Build relationships with national and community based organizations of persons with disabilities. World Bank country offices should build meaningful relationships with organizations of persons with disabilities at the country level. As projects across all sectors have impacts on persons with disabilities, communications staff at the country level should proactively reach out to and build relationships with organizations of persons with disabilities to learn more about their work and learn how persons with disabilities are impacted by Bank-funded projects.
- Develop a version of project, program, and strategy documents that uses plain, simple language. Project, program, and strategy documents are often quite technical, so having easy to read, accessible documents will enable persons with disabilities to engage more easily. This must be coupled with accessible consultations that take into consideration accommodations such as sign language interpretation so that persons with disabilities are able to actively and meaningfully engage.
- Close the feedback loop. It is important for stakeholders to understand how their input is or is not feeding into project design and implementation. This will help enable persons with disabilities to alert the government and the Bank when project design and implementation is not inclusive and provide a platform for them to continue to provide input for making the project accessible and inclusive throughout the project cycle.
- Include specific reference to persons with disabilities in binding legal and policy documents. Persons with disabilities should be referenced as a target group in the Stakeholder Engagement Plan (SEP), and it should be clear in the SEP how engagement will need to be tailored to reach and include them. Then, the feedback received from persons with disabilities should also be reflected in the Environment and Social Commitment Plan (ESCP). Liberia’s COVID-19 health response project ESCP details that the project team shall, “Engage consciously targeting vulnerable groups and people living with disability and allocate resources for CSOs and CBOs for downstream engagement and engage with them in constructive manner.” While this could go a long way to helping persons with disabilities engage in consultations and work together with the implementing agency to help design and monitor implementation, this does not seem to be happening in Liberia. It is imperative that language in project documents translates into action on the ground throughout implementation.
For more information on BIC’s disability inclusion work, visit our disability rights webpage.