What if development always included persons with disabilities?

Disability subject participants at the University of Melbourne

Australia Awards is committed to ensuring disability inclusion throughout the award cycle, from the award application stage, through the selection interviews and mobilisation and onto Alumni engagement. To date, 79 persons with disclosed disability have been awarded Masters and Short Course Awards. Australia Awards provides reasonable support for persons with disabilities and sensitises Alumni and Awardees to understand and implement inclusive development as part of their work projects when they return home.

A number of Awardees have expressed an interest in pursuing the subject Disability in Developing Countries, offered by the University of Melbourne in partnership with the Nossal Institute, which focuses on disability-inclusive development and practice. As a professional development opportunity, the one-week subject that introduces participants to issues and paradigms that influence and shape development responses to disability in low-income settings encourages participants to envision a world where all development programs include people with disabilities, both as implementers and as beneficiaries. Participants of the subject come from diverse geographical and professional backgrounds, enriching the understanding of how disability inclusion can work across different contexts. The subject was initiated in 2003, with over 400 students having completed it. Of these, 53 have been Australia Awards recipients from different countries.

“The subject Disability in Developing Countries at the University of Melbourne’s Nossal Institute for Global Health is a good opportunity to gain in-depth knowledge and skills on disability-inclusive development. For those interested in understanding how people with disabilities can be more effectively included in development programs, this is an ideal subject,” observes Jo Webber, the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade Disability Advisor, and former subject lecturer.

Alexandra Devine, the Senior Research Officer at the Nossal Institute, acknowledges the key role this subject has played, with a number of former students going out to work in disability-inclusive development, establishing organisations with a focus on disability inclusion and transferring the knowledge and skills gained back to their organisations and countries. “The subject is valued by the participants as, for many, it is their first opportunity to learn about why and how to include people with disabilities in development programs. People with the lived experience of disability, lecture on a number of topics, ensuring that participants learn from the perspectives and experiences of people with disabilities themselves, but also gain a better understanding of how to partner with people with disabilities in development programs.”

Georgina Mumba, an Australia Awards Alumna from Zambia who undertook this subject, reports: “The subject exposed me to new paradigms such as inclusive education, twin-track programmes and commonalities in disability challenges across developing nations (not only Africa).” Georgina explains that attitudes towards disability are yet to reach a level that yields effective inclusion in Zambia, as people assume that simply being polite to a person with a disability amounts to inclusion, whereas persons with disabilities face significant institutional barriers.

The Nossal Institute shares the Australia Awards program’s goal to ultimately encourage award participants to reflect on and implement disability inclusion, not only in their workplace, but in their families, communities and countries, and how they can work and live alongside people with disabilities to promote a more inclusive society for everyone. The five-day subject takes place annually at the Parkville Campus of the University of Melbourne. Application details are available on the Institute’s website.

Writer: Nancy Biwott
Photography: The University of Melbourne

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