Disability Inclusion: how the United Nations are aiming to ‘leave no-one behind’

UN Disability blog
Dr. Ally Dunhill 1

Author: Dr. Ally Dunhill

To see a good practice example of how the social economy can work for the inclusion of people with disabilities, see our blog post on 65 degrés here.

In June 2019, The United Nations launched the Disability Inclusion Strategy at the annual conference on the Convention of Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD). The Secretary-General António Guterres, stated at that time, that the United Nations “should lead by example and raise the Organisation’s standards and performance on disability inclusion—across all pillars of work, from headquarters to the field.” This is a bold statement, and if successful, this strategy offers sustainable, transformative change towards disability and has the potential to make a real difference for people with disabilities.

It is not a strategy of words — it is a strategy of action — action to raise the standards of the United Nations performance on disability inclusion across the board — and action to bring about the unified and transformative change we need. I want the United Nations to be an employer of choice for persons with disabilities.

Director-General António Guterres, 2019 Tweet

In the strategy document, it states that there will be an external review after five years, to identify the progress on disability inclusion through all pillars of the work of the United Nations. However, at the 74th Session of the General Assembly (2019), the Secretary-General was invited to submit a progress report to identify how much had been achieved towards mainstreaming disability inclusion, just one year after the launch of the United Nations Disability Inclusion Strategy. This diligence indicates the United Nation’s commitment and belief that mainstreaming disability issues is vitally important to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

In October 2020, the Secretary-General’s progress report, Disability inclusion in the United Nations system, was published. The report provides an initial assessment of the status of disability inclusion across the United Nations system. The 59 United Nations entities provided a baseline on their initial progress towards the implementation of the strategy, a critical reference point for assessing the changes and impact of implementing the strategy, and against which future performance of all the United Nations entities can be measured against.

The report includes recommendations for the United Nations system to do more and explains how Member States should be acting to implement the CRPD and achieve the SDGs. The European Union, as a party to the CRPD (signed March 2007, ratified December 2010), has much to gain from this timely report as the examples of disability-inclusive practices and COVID-19 recovery efforts should inform the post-2020 EU Disability Strategy review. 

UN disability inclusion

The term ‘disability inclusion’ refers to the meaningful participation of persons with disabilities in all their diversity, the promotion and mainstreaming of their rights into the work of the Organization, the development of disability-specific programmes and the consideration of disability-related perspectives, in compliance with the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

Report of the Secretary General Tweet

The report outlines three fundamental approaches that will guide the work of the United Nations to achieve meaningful participation of persons with disabilities throughout the Organisation.

These are:

  • The Twin-Track Approach – this takes into account the cross-cutting issues of disability from identifying the issues to targeted programming.


  • Intersectionality – acknowledging that factors such as gender, age, disability and location impact an individual’s lived experience.


  • Coordination – aiming to accelerate progress and build on examples of good practice to achieve inclusion, through a coherent and coordinated approach.

The report also focuses on four core areas of responsibility:

  1. Leadership, strategic planning and management
  2. Inclusiveness
  3. Programming
  4. Organizational culture

All of these core areas are key to bring about inclusive, systematic and sustainable change in the United Nations system. However, the most crucial element of these core areas in ‘inclusiveness’. ‘Nothing about us without us’ the position where all decisions that will have an impact on the lived experiences of people with disabilities should be decided upon with the full and direct participation of people with disabilities. To achieve ‘inclusiveness’ requires, “close consultation with persons with disabilities and partnerships with organizations of persons with disabilities” and the report rightly points out that historically, “those facing greater marginalization, such as women with disabilities and persons with disabilities in humanitarian contexts, such consultations have not been undertaken in a systematic, inclusive and accessible manner.” The inclusiveness of persons with disabilities is critical as it ensures their voices will be heard loud and clear, not only to acknowledge the positive contribution of persons with disabilities, but to ensure the respect, protection, and fulfilment of the rights of persons with disabilities universally.

This is a critical time for the rights of persons with disabilities. Many have been marginalised further or excluded due to the devastating effects of the pandemic, COVID-19. Disability inclusion is a fundamental human right.  Through the Disability Inclusion Strategy and the subsequent report, it could be said that the United Nations and its Member States, have adopted yet another global framework that outlines a commitment to realising the rights of persons with disabilities. As with the CRPD, this agenda has the potential to ‘leave no-one behind’ and can achieve transformative and lasting change for people with disabilities if fully implemented in collaboration with people with disabilities. However, we should acknowledge that we have a long way to go. Continual vigilance will be required to ensure that mindsets and organisational culture are changed in a way to ensure the rights and opportunities for persons with disabilities are fully realised and sustainable. This combination contributes to “a more inclusive United Nations for all” and with the efforts of Social Economy Europe and the wider social economy community, a barrier-free Europe is possible, where people with disabilities fully participate in society and enjoy their fundamental rights.

Dr. Ally Dunhill

Dr. Ally Dunhill

Guest Blogger

Dr Ally Dunhill is a consultant and researcher in the social policy domain, with a particular focus on children, youth, inclusion and rights. She has worked across the education and social care sectors for over 30 years. She has lectured, researched and presented on a wide range of topics, all with the core theme of promoting, protecting and respecting human rights. Since 2015, all aspects of her work have been aligned to the Sustainable Development Goals (SGDs). Ally is also the co-founder of Accessible AD, one of the first Start-Ups in the UAE, which is a third sector organisation focused on accessibility and inclusion.

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