From objects of care to controllers of lives: governance, development and disability inclusion

25th May 2016

Over the past decade or so, Australia’s efforts to support disability-inclusive development have begun to move from a charity approach to a rights-based approach. We now recognise that positive changes for people with disabilities are best brought about by – oddly enough – people with disabilities.

Australia captured this paradigm shift well when we emphasised at the United Nations the importance of moving away from treating people with disabilities as ‘objects of care’ towards efforts to put people with disabilities ‘in control of their lives’.

Putting marginalised people in control of their lives is, of course, easier said than done. It means removing all the constraints that have put that control outside their grasp – and in many cases handed that control to someone else.

Disabled people's organisations, government agencies, courts, human rights groups, journalists, donors and others came together to campaign for the rights of Indonesians with disabilities.

Removing factors that disempower people with disabilities will usually involve reforming institutions – changing, as the late Adrian Leftwich put it, the ‘rules of the game’: ‘the formal and informal rules that shape… economic, political and social behaviour and hence which frame how political power is obtained, used and controlled, how economic activity occurs and how relations between individuals and groups and the state are structured.’

In other words, empowering people with disabilities over the long term is about governance.

Unfortunately, making progress on anything governance-related generally takes a long time. Former British Prime Minister Gordon Brown once observed, for example: ‘In establishing the rule of law, the first five centuries are always the hardest.’ Meaningful changes to the rules of the game often depend on persuading people to do things differently even when it may not be in their short-term interests to do so, and that rarely happens fast.

Another unfortunate thing about governance investments is that they can’t generally be planned in advance with much detail or confidence. Unlike, say, a project that hands out wheelchairs or hearing aids, it’s usually not possible to predict how much it will cost or how long it will take to bring about a disability-accessible university admissions policy or to persuade courts to accept evidence from witnesses with intellectual disabilities. These changes often follow non-linear trajectories – getting there can involve taking two steps forward then one step back.

The fact that governance investments are hard to plan means that they can also be hard to evaluate, particularly if the preferred method of evaluation asks ‘to what extent did you achieve what you set out to achieve?’. Policy-makers often prefer investments that can be easily measured (the ‘only what can be counted counts’ problem). And governance initiatives are hard to promote through photographs and ribbon-cutting events.

The good news is that, with some serious effort and perseverance, governance reforms that bring about real changes for people with disabilities can and do happen. And development cooperation can play an important role in facilitating them.

I saw the possibilities at first hand when I was involved in the Australia Indonesia Partnership for Justice (AIPJ). Between 2011 and 2015, AIPJ worked to build reform coalitions around the issue of disability. Disabled people’s organisations, government agencies, courts, human rights groups, journalists, donors and others came together to campaign for the rights of Indonesians with disabilities.

In March 2016, Indonesia's parliament passed a disability law which – as the coalitions had advocated – enshrines the rights-based approach...

Not much progress was noticeable for the first couple of years. But a recent impact evaluation found that, over five years, the work helped achieve significant improvements for Indonesians with disabilities.

These coalitions can now claim a good deal of the credit for a raft of changes that will give people with disabilities more control over their lives. These include the launching of a sign language service in Indonesia’s courts; changes to the entrance tests for public universities to make them accessible for people with visual impairments and other disabilities; better treatment for wheelchair users on Garuda Indonesia flights; measures to reduce corruption in disability support budgets; screen-reader compatible websites across many of Indonesia’s law and justice agencies; and the establishment of referral and training networks to help people with disabilities access legal advice and representation.

And, in March 2016, Indonesia’s parliament passed a disability law which – as the coalitions had advocated – enshrines the rights-based approach required under the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. Ensuring this law is implemented effectively will take more time and effort, but its passage shows what can be achieved over the medium to long term with patience, determination, flexibility and nous.

Changing the rules of the game may be messier and less photogenic than simply giving assistance to ‘recipients’, but it is possible – and ultimately far more useful.

Image: A worker at an Indonesian clothing factory that provides employment opportunities for people with disabilities (ILO/Better Work Indonesia)

0 Comments

Leave a comment

The views expressed in Opinions posts are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent those of DLP, the Australian Government or DLP's partner organisations.

Documents

Author

Luke Arnold

Luke Arnold

Luke Arnold is Director of the Law and Justice Section at the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. From 2012-15, he managed the Australia Indonesia Partnership for Justice on behalf of the Australian Embassy in Jakarta. This followed several years at the Australian Agency for International Development, where he worked in the Budget Branch and as Governance Manager on the Indonesia Desk. Prior to joining the Australian Public Service, Luke worked as a consultant for the International Labour Organization and as a lawyer for MinterEllison. 

Read more

Related items

International donors - aiding or abetting?

The 'donor's dilemma' is discussed in a new DLP paper.

Opinion by Niheer Dasandi10th September 2015

The road to transparency in resource-rich Myanmar

Myanmar's EITI process and its contribution to broader reform

Opinion by Taylor Brown1st April 2016

Politicians and administrators: conflict, collusion or collaboration?

How do relations between political and administrative leaders affect reform?

Opinion by Niheer Dasandi23rd October 2014

#Feminism: Digital technologies and feminist activism in Fiji

Guest post on Devpolicy on DLP work with research partners at University of the South Pacific

Opinion by Tait Brimacombe14th March 2017

What is transformative leadership?

Guest post in University World News

Opinion by Chris Roche15th April 2016

The challenge of realising Pacific democracies' development potential

How can Pacific democracies deliver for their citizens?

Opinion by Julien Barbara8th July 2016

What do we do on Monday? Political settlements in theory and practice

The value of the political settlements framework

Opinion by Edward Laws15th July 2015

Authoritarianism, democracy and development

What does the evidence say?

Opinion by Tim Kelsall27th November 2014
Opinion by Alina Rocha Menocal24th November 2014

The seeds and roots of change

Guest post on leadership networks for Governance for Development

Opinion by Heather Lyne de Ver1st December 2014
Opinion by Luke Arnold25th May 2016
Opinion by Susy Ndaruhutse11th September 2014

Political analysis as the practical art of the possible

Bringing politics back into PEA - a new paper with Adrian Leftwich

Opinion by David Hudson24th July 2014

What's in a name? Leadership as more than the 'big men' and 'big women' of history

Looking beyond 'The Leader' for a deeper understanding of how change happens

Opinion by Heather Lyne de Ver11th February 2014

Parliamentary strengthening: the IDC report

Having presented evidence to the UK's International Development Committee, what of the final report?

Opinion by Tam O'Neil9th February 2015

The inclusiveness test: making change work

Guest post for openDemocracy

Opinion by Alina Rocha Menocal4th November 2015

Is developmental patrimonialism a dead end?

The first of two posts introducing a new DLP paper on growth and democratic transition

Opinion by Tim Kelsall27th September 2016

Education, development, and the problem with consensus

Why rethink the international consensus on 'quality basic education for development'?

Opinion by Michele Schweisfurth7th April 2014

Inclusive political settlements: who and what gets included, and how?

First of six posts on political settlements by researchers, policymakers and practitioners.

Opinion by Alina Rocha Menocal13th July 2015

Welcome to DLP's blog

Welcome to DLP's new blog on politics, power, policy and developmental leadership

Opinion by Heather Marquette10th December 2013

Corruption: is the right message getting through?

The unintended consequences of raising awareness of corruption

Opinion by Caryn Peiffer12th August 2015
Opinion by Dan Hymowitz3rd February 2017

It's all about inclusion, but how?

Guest post for the World Bank

Opinion by Alina Rocha Menocal6th April 2016

Two remarkable transitions: lessons from Oman and Somaliland

Political settlements and international power structures

Opinion by Sarah Phillips20th July 2015

Medellin - more than a miracle

From the most murderous city on earth to 'a new global standard for urban policy': the politics of change in the wake of crisis

Opinion by Cheryl Stonehouse4th March 2014

Inequality – the politics behind the policies

Discussion starter for the #polinequality conference

Opinion by David Hudson11th February 2015

Is education a magic bullet for addressing corruption? Insights from Papua New Guinea

This post for Devpolicy unpacks the findings of a new Development Policy Centre / DLP paper 

Opinion by Grant Walton17th June 2015