Disabled People’s Organizations (DPOs) are organizations created and developed by of persons with disabilities and their allies that work to advance the rights of persons with disabilities through raising awareness in society and advocating for equal rights as citizens. In some low and middle-income countries, DPOs are community-based organizations that are a part of civil society in their respective community or country.
There are many ways that economic development and business stakeholders – whether from the private sector, government, non-governmental organizations, technical and vocational educational training, financial services, and more can partner with DPOs to promote meaningful inclusion of persons with disabilities in economic development. Some DPO mandates are centered around advocacy and promoting citizen participation, others can help with service referrals and provide linkages between the disability community and economic development stakeholders. Remember – different DPOs have different mandates just like NGOs, businesses, etc. and mandates are related to diverse themes, issues and concerns on disabilities, which may not always be related to economic development and the world of work. The easiest and best way to pinpoint the mandate of a DPO is simply to ask!
For Government and donors
- DPOs can help governments better understand and respond to the specific needs of persons with disabilities in their respective governing areas.
- DPOs can help identify individuals with disabilities so they can access government services.
- Governments can invest in working alongside DPOs to create coalitions of local DPOs to focus on a common view and create a better understanding of disability among local authorities. This will be a win-win situation, helping representatives be more responsive to the needs of citizens with disabilities while creating a stronger and unified DPO network.
- Governments can partner with DPOs to create and promote policies and legislation that are inclusive of persons with disabilities, and that meet the specific needs of persons with disabilities.
- Governments can promote the creation of partnerships focused on advocacy and disability rights to advance inclusion efforts at the local level.
- Donors who are focused on Inclusive Local Development (ILD) can work with DPOs to increase their capacity to work with local authorities and take part in the creation of local development priorities and plans.
For International Non-government Organizations (INGOs)
- Partnering with DPOs on projects and programs encourages greater participation and inclusion of persons with disabilities into mainstream international development initiatives.
- Following the Disability Rights slogan “nothing about us without us,” collaborating with DPOs should translate into involving stakeholders with disabilities throughout the project cycle. This can include DPOs and their members who are well known to the disability community.
- It is important to recognize that DPO mandates vary. Some DPOs focus on cross- disability issues, while other DPOs represent specific disability types or specific issues within the disability community. Many DPOs focus on advocacy, access to services and participation, while others go beyond this mandate. Identifying the purpose of your INGO’s project or program will help guide you in identifying which DPOs are best to partner with.
- Overall, INGOs can aim to promote social change by intentionally including disability issues within community based development initiatives.
For Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET)
- Inclusion of people with disabilities into higher education is critical in ensuring that people with disabilities are meaningfully included within the labor market.
- DPOs can help TVET institutions identify suitable people with disabilities interested in joining TVET courses. It is important to note that people with disabilities should be included in mainstream TVET courses alongside people without disabilities, rather than being taught in separate courses or institutions.
- Many DPOs also hold expertise in accommodation, and can help TVET institutions understand how to make the necessary adaptations and accommodations needed to meaningfully include people with disabilities in their respective courses.
For Microfinance Institutions (MFIs) or Financial Service Providers (FSPs)
- DPOs can provide great linkages with disability – owned businesses and/or entrepreneurs in your community. MFIs can partner with DPOs to help promote their financial products (e.g. microloans) within the disability community, and help entrepreneurs with disabilities understand the specific requirements of MFIs for their loans.
- DPOs can help financial service providers dispel myths around persons with disabilities, and help shift staff attitudes and organizational culture around disability inclusion of the financial service provider as an institution.
- DPOs represent the needs of the disability community, and typically understand well the disability related goods and services in their respective communities.
- Especially in low and middle-income countries, DPOs often register community members, and typically have a good understanding of where persons with disabilities in the surrounding communities live, work, etc. In some situations where DPOs have a large network of persons with disabilities in their community, DPOs can be a great partner to build inclusive talent pipelines, or to help businesses identify qualified job seekers with disabilities.
- Businesses often forget that persons with disabilities and their communities are often consumers. Given that 15% of the global population lives with a disability, and 80% of those individuals live in developing countries (World Health Organization), communities of persons with disabilities have a lot of purchasing power. Businesses can partner with DPOs to ensure their products meet the specific needs of persons with disabilities, and/or to ensure their products or services are designed in an accessible way.
Practical Steps and ideas for all actors to work with DPOs:
- Fund DPOs to conduct awareness raising campaigns on disability, rights, issues and concerns at community level in the participation of persons with disabilities and other social activists and leaders from communities.
- Assist organizations to register as official DPOs in their districts to formally conduct activities and work in collaboration with external stakeholders.
- Help build DPO capacity by preparing an annual work plan with the presence of all members affiliated to it; where institutional development and project works are clearly planned
- DPOs can play several varying roles in communities. For example, DPOs can be organized as a community center, e.g. an advocacy and/or service referral hub for all the members in a given location. For this purpose, updated census data on persons with disabilities and capacity building trainings may be helpful to reach the expected point. The DPO and its leadership then can be stronger to lead, deal and make a good plan to establish the rights of persons with disabilities within areas of concerned municipality.
- Help build the capacity of DPOs to conduct sensitization workshops for government and non- government agencies.
- Facilitate and support DPOs to establish links with concerned stakeholders who could potentially provide resources to local DPOs.
- Establish revolving funds which can be utilized for income generating activities, vocational training and enhancement of the business started by persons with disabilities.
- DPOs can also act as a central hub for disability owned businesses and entrepreneurs – they can publicize the services and products made by persons with disabilities, either in business to business relationships or within end markets.