DFID’s approach to disability in development

Around one in six people in developing countries live with a disability. As a group, they tend to be poorer, and suffer more discrimination, exclusion and violence than the rest of the population.

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16 May 2018
Lead commissioner
Alison Evans
Health, Social protection
Related documents
Approach paper

The UK government played a significant role in getting disability included as a central concern of the Sustainable Development Goals in 2015, but since then has been slower in systematically including the concerns and challenges facing people living with disability in its own programming.

DFID created a disability framework in 2014, and renewed it in 2015, but a major emphasis on disability did not come until late 2016 when the then Secretary of State announced an aim to establish DFID as “the global leader in this neglected and under prioritised area.” Since then, DFID has made more efforts to mainstream disability inclusion across the department.

The Global Disability Summit, scheduled for July 2018, is an opportunity to renew the UK’s efforts, and to galvanise international actors. It is therefore an appropriate time for ICAI to undertake a rapid review and provide insights as this area develops over time.

Scope and methodology

This review assesses DFID’s work on disability since the publication of the International Development Committee’s report ‘Disability and development’ in 2014, which urged DFID to become more ambitious in its approach to disability inclusion in its aid programming.

This review looks at whether DFID has developed an appropriate approach to disability and development, and how well DFID is identifying and filling knowledge and data gaps on disability in development.

We reviewed DFID’s disability inclusion strategy and research literature on disability in development, spoke with civil society and academics to identify key issues, and conducted interviews with DFID staff, outside experts, and other donors. We then conducted in-depth investigations into DFID’s disability approach in five sectors that were identified in the 2015 Disability Framework:

  • stigma and discrimination,
  • economic development,
  • mental health/psychosocial disability,
  • humanitarian,
  • and education.


This review found that DFID has made a useful start to developing an approach to disability and development and is scaling up activities ahead of the global disability summit, but a step change is needed to mainstream disability across the department.

DFID senior management has provided clear leadership since 2017 and DFID has put a range of mandatory requirements into its programme management processes, but its disability-targeted programming in key sectors is too modest in scale and reach to be likely to deliver transformational results.

DFID has taken a leadership role internationally, and has rightly focused investment on research and on filling a key data gap created by the lack of robust and consistent methods for counting the number of people with disabilities. DFID is beginning to develop a research strategy but it is not clear how far people with disabilities will be involved in steering DFID’s disability research.

DFID has not yet aligned its research agenda with its policy priorities, and currently there is no plan to mainstream disability into broader research despite the positive experience of an earlier cross-cutting disability research programme. DFID has also not yet been specific on how far people with disabilities will be involved in steering research.

The review also found that DFID staff have limited guidance on how to address disability in programming. The proposed Disability Inclusive Development programme will promote research uptake, but could be complemented by a structured exchange of learning between country offices on the more practical aspects of mainstreaming disability, a community of practice of staff working on disability and a plan for evaluations.

DFID’s commitment to disability inclusion requires more staff with disabilities, especially as the UK civil service has a goal to be the most inclusive employer in the UK by 2020.


  1. DFID should adopt a more visible and systematic plan for mainstreaming disability inclusion. The plan should be time-bound with commitments and actions at the level of programming, human resourcing, learning, and organisational culture.
  2. DFID should increase the representation of staff with disabilities at all levels of the department, and increase the number of staff with significant previous experience in working on disability inclusion.
  3. DFID country offices should develop theories of change for disability inclusion in their countries. These should propose a strategy for the country office, with a particular focus on influencing and working with national governments.
  4. DFID should engage with disabled people’s organisations on country-level disability inclusion strategies, advocacy towards partner governments, capacity building, and the design of programmes, including research programmes.
  5. In order to deliver its existing policy commitments, DFID should increase its programming on (i) tackling stigma and discrimination, including within the private sector, and (ii) inclusion of people with psychosocial disabilities and people with intellectual disabilities, noting that these are two different groups who face different sets of challenges.
  6. DFID should create a systematic learning programme, and a community of practice, on the experience of mainstreaming disability into DFID programmes.

Government response

The government publishes a response to all ICAI reviews. The government response to our disability review is available to read online.

International Development Committee

Parliament’s International Development Committee (IDC), or its ICAI sub-committee, hold hearings on all ICAI reviews. The IDC hearing on DFID’s approach to disability in development is available to watch online.

ICAI’s follow-up

ICAI follows up on all of its reviews to check what progress has been made since publication. ICAI’s disability follow-up is available to read now.