Inclusion and Mobilization of People with Disabilities in U.S. Foreign Assistance

Authored by The U.S. International Council on Disabilities, Handicap International USA, and members of InterAction’s Disability Working Group

Recommendations & Actions

Fifteen percent of the world’s population has a disability. Inclusion and mobilization of this population must be a strategic priority within all foreign assistance programs, similar to the integration of gender equality and youth across foreign assistance programs. People with disabilities are best qualified to advocate on issues affecting their lives; so their experiences and insights must be an integral part of the design, implementation, monitoring and evaluation of strategies, programs and projects worldwide. A rights-based approach facilitates the equitable participation of all people with disabilities as both beneficiaries and drivers of the development process, and does not focus solely on the medical aspects of disability. Specific steps include the following:

  • Ratify the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, an international treaty that recognizes the rights of people with disabilities;
  • Influence multilateral organizations (such as UNICEF, the UN Development Programme and the World Bank), private foundations and other donors to develop disability inclusive programs and policies; and
  • Ensure full inclusion of people with disabilities in foreign assistance programs by:
  • Establishing and strengthening internal policies on inclusion. Include disability in all scopes of work, selection criteria and evaluation mechanisms for USAID and State Department solicitations for funding, including for long-term development, education, job creation, civic participation, health, transition programs and emergency response. Disaggregate key goals and indicators in a way that effectively captures participation by people with disabilities. Increase inclusive development training for USAID and State Department staff. Ensure that whenever possible, agency staff with disabilities participate in the selection process for all awards.
  • Increasing funding for disability-specific programs and programs that support inclusion of people with disabilities. There should be an increase in funding to support disability inclusion in foreign assistance programs, through specific projects which support the empowerment of people with disabilities as well as mainstreaming.
  • Ensuring and promoting accessible programming and infrastructure. Make all foreign assistance programs fully accessible to people with disabilities. Ensure construction supported by U.S. funds is accessible; ensure all program materials are disseminated in accessible formats such as sign language, braille or large print.
  • Strengthening existing structures within the State Department and USAID devoted to global disabilities. The positions of Senior Advisor on Global Disability Issues (at USAID) and Special Advisor for International Disability Rights (at the State Department) should be filled at all times. The Office of the Special Advisor should be provided with funds under the office’s direct control for programming related to global disability rights and mainstreaming. USAID should review and revise its disability policy and once again issue regular reports on progress related to implementation.


Reforming U.S. foreign aid to effectively include men, women and children with disabilities will ensure that their rights and program priorities are addressed and lead to sustainable development for all.

For more information, please contact: Mica Bevington, Director of Marketing & Communications, Handicap International-USA ( (301-891—2138).

Contributions to the Disability Policy Brief:

United States International Council on Disabilities (USICD)
Handicap International USA
InterAction Disability Working Group
American Jewish World Service
American Leprosy Missions, Inc.
Disability Rights Education & Defense Fund (DREDF) Handicap International USA
Healey International Relief Foundation
Helen Keller International
HelpAge USA
International Medical Corps
Islamic Relief USA
Management Sciences for Health
Mercy Corps
Mobility International USA
National Association of Social Workers
Save the Children
TrickleUp Program
United States International Council of Disabilities (USICD)
Women’s Refugee Commission
World Concern World Learning World Vision

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