There are many differences between the current global Sustainable Development Goals and the previous Millennium Development Goals. We have gone from 8 to 17 Goals, from a set of goals determined by a small community of government officials to one that have the support of the international community including NGOs, business and educational institutions. Another thing that has changed between the MDGs and the SDGs is the inclusion of the rights of persons with disabilities not just once, but throughout.
Over a billion people are estimated to live with some form of disability, about 15% of the world’s population and this number is growing. The Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, adopted in 2006, defines persons with disabilities as “those who have long-term physical, mental, intellectual, or sensory impairments which in interaction with various barriers may hinder their full and effective participation in society on an equal basis with others”. In honour of the International Day of Person’s with Disabilities on December 3rd, this weeks’ posts will focus on how the global community, business and business schools are engaging in the challenges and opportunities related to disabilites.
Disability and the Sustainable Development Goals
Disability disproportionately affects vulnerable populations and is more common in women, older people and the poor. Because they face widespread barriers to assessing services people with disabilities have worse health and socioeconomic outcomes, lower education achievements, less economic participation and higher rates of poverty than people without disabilities.
Persons with disabilities are specifically mentioned 11 times in the SDGs although it is important to note that most if not all of the goals and targets are related to disabilities (for example SDG 5 around Gender Equality includes women with disabilities). But there are several specific references including:
4 -Guaranteeing equal and accessible education by building inclusive
learning environments and providing the needed assistance for persons with disabilities.
8- Promoting inclusive economic growth, full and productive employment allowingpersons with disabilities to fully access the job market
10 – Emphasizing the social, economic and political inclusion of persons withdisabilities
11: Creating accessible cities and water resources, affordable accessible and sustainable transportation systems, providing universal access to safe, inclusive, accessible and green public spaces
17: Underlining the importance of data collection and monitoring of the SDGs, emphasis on disability disaggregated data.
What does this mean in practice?
Despite these goals, and the fact that most countries have signed the Convention, only 45 countries have anti-discrimination laws to protect disabled people. This includes according to the World Report on Disability:
- Ensuring a recruitment process free of discrimination. This includes accessibility in communications, in interview mechanisms, timing and format allowances for exams etc.
- Promote an accessible physical working environment including disabled friendly parking, doorways, ramps, cafeterias, workstations, washrooms, meeting rooms etc.
- Promote reasonable accommodations including communication accessibility, flexible working hours, transportation accessibility etc.
- Promote a healthy, safe and stigma free working environment
- Promote equal opportunities for career development as well as equal pay for equal work
- Promote job retention and return to work for people who acquire a disability during the course of their employment
- Promote access to training and necessary diplomas to be able to work or become self-employed
So what can a business school do to promote inclusiveness?
Enabling access to all mainstream services is important. In order to do this schools must look at barriers that different students, with different impairments face. There has been a paradigm shift in approaches to disabilities, away from a medical understanding to a social one. Disability arises from the interaction between people with a health condition and their environment and it is experienced in each individual. As the UN Global Compact puts it, “persons with disabilities form a very heterogeneous group. For example, a person with an intellectual impairment, someone who is visually impaired or someone with a mental health condition/psychosocial impairment all encounter different barriers”. According to the UN Flagship Report on Disability released today, more than 10% of persons with disabilities have been refused entry into school because of their disability and more than a quarter reported schools were not accessible or were hindering to them.
These barriers don’t just relate to physical access to spaces. People with disabilities face widespread barriers in accessing a whole range of services including, but not limited to health, education, employment and transportation, even information. These impact their ability to study, their time on campus, and their employment opportunities post graduation.
Focusing on removing these barriers isn’t the only way that schools should engage. Attracting and accepting students with disabilities isn’t just about anti-discrimination or encouraging diversity. It also needs to focus on inclusiveness. Do your disabled employees and students feel included?
Schools encourage inclusiveness by organizing a range of activities and services aimed at raising awareness about persons with disabilities, in particular the challenges that they face. While business schools have courses exploring human rights, very few discuss the challenges, opportunities as well as the contributions that people with disabilities make to society and the economy. Out of the more one billion people with a disability, 80% are of working age but according to the International Labour Organisation (ILO) fewer than 20% of these are currently working. Research done by Accenture found that companies that embrace best practices for employing and supporting more persons with disabilities in their workforce have outperformed their peers. A new range of specialized programmes, courses and research projects are tackling just that as we will see in the examples presented in other posts this week.
Finally, none of this work should be done without participation from persons with disabilities. The disability movement’s principle is “nothing about us without us”. Therefore including individuals with disabilities in discussions about what they need and how those needs, including relating to research and curriculum, is crucial and an opportunity in itself.
Disability shouldn’t just be seen in terms of numbers or access but about exploring and providing opportunities that engage all students. Disability doesn’t just impact individuals with disabilities, it is a cross cutting sustainability and business issue as well.
Next post: Resources on Disability