By Veronika Wodsak

Sep 13, 2022

On 17th February, during the second Global Disability Summit, a group of UN agencies, development agencies, DPOs and NGOs organized a side event to take stock of key achievements since the last Summit in 2018 and discuss the way forward to leverage social protection systems better for the inclusion of people with disability. The discussion of good practices and next steps will continue at the global virtual conference Disability – Social Protection – Inclusion: Dialogue for Change on 16th and 17th March.

The side event was opened by Bård Vegar Solhjell, Director-General of Norad, who emphasized the importance of the Disability Summit to facilitate this joint reflection and to strengthen commitments to progressively realize the inclusion of persons with disability in society as stipulated in the Convention of Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD). He highlighted the key role of social protection in this regard and the importance of the growing international momentum illustrated by the diversity of agencies present at the side event. Yannis Vardakastanis, Chair of the International Disability Alliance (IDA), emphasized that support from strong and inclusive social protection systems is a precondition for many persons with disabilities to exercise their Human Rights, such as living independently and being included in the community (Article 19 of the CRPD) and adequate standard of living (Article 28). Yet social protection systems were often weak and not inclusive even before the COVID-19 pandemic.  The global crisis has increased inequalities and pushed into poverty millions of people with disabilities. Veronika Wodsak from the ILO further substantiated this, sharing key findings from the report on Social Protection Responses to the COVID-19 Crisis for Persons with Disabilities.

The crises re-produced or aggravated patterns of exclusion and inequalities existing before the pandemic. People with disabilities were more vulnerable to the impacts of the pandemic and not systematically included in the design of response measures. Less than half of the countries that announced social protection COVID-19 response measures referred specifically to people with disabilities and in total only 9% of about 1,700 measures registered in May 2021 addressed people with disability specifically. Mainstream social protection measures are not always accessible for people with disabilities and do not cover disability related extra costs which increased during the pandemic.  

Recognizing the challenges countries were facing to ensure their social protection response was inclusive, FCDO, GIZ and DFAT jointly launched a helpdesk called SPACE (Social Protection Approaches to COVID-19: Expert Advice). SPACE emphasized the inclusion of people with disabilities in their on-demand support to decision-makers at country. SPACE also developed guidance papers for integrating disability inclusion into design and operations, in particular as regards information systems and targeting mechanisms. As Laura Mac Lean from FCDO emphasized, one clear lesson that emerged from the work is that preparedness pays off: countries which had disability identification mechanisms and registries already in place were in a better position to respond to COVID-19 by providing faster relief and expanding support to Persons with Disabilities and their families tailored to their needs.

Reviewing the crisis response shows that cash transfers have been one of the main vectors of support with several countries increasing values of existing transfer while horizontal expansion has been more challenging. David Stewart shared how UNICEF supported country efforts to expand cash transfer for children and adults with disabilities and their families in recent years.  Overall, while there is a momentum with regards to work on disability and social protection, many countries are struggling to build social protection systems that work for the inclusion of people with disabilities.

In the next segment several agencies shared their progress with regards to supporting countries developing disability inclusive social protection systems.

Gustavo De Marco shared how the World Bank is working to meet the ambitious target of ensuring 75 % of their social protection and jobs programs are disability inclusive across five areas of work: income support, long term and social care, rehabilitation, skills development, and employment opportunities. To achieve this and ensure key human resource involved in program design and management are equipped adequately, the World Bank developed Disability Inclusive Social Protection Project Guidelines. The guidelines identify four entry points for disability inclusive projects, both as regards mainstream and disability-specific schemes: stakeholder engagement, disability sensitive analysis, disability data and disability inclusive design. During the pandemic, a key element of the World Bank guidance was on improving needs assessments and ensuring continuity of services, e.g.  ensuring people with urgent needs are not excluded because of administrative procedures. Another element was to maximize the use of public works to meet the care agenda, including for people with disabilities, alongside an emphasis on ensuring accessible communication.

Similarly, the Asian Development Bank (ADB) had made nine specific commitments in 2018 as part of its ADP Disability Roadmap to introduce disability inclusive development approaches in ADB operations and to build an inclusive organizational culture within the ADB, of which disability data disaggregation is one component. As Michiel Van Der Auwera elaborated, the work of the social protection indicator (SPI) is central since it has become a unique source of social protection statistics in the region to inform social protection development, providing comparable data over a period of 10 years as regards expenditure and coverage of social protection across the countries in the region, with disaggregated data on poverty and gender. To address disability data constraints, the ADB has taken steps to include the Washington Group questions in the national census and other surveys

Disability inclusion is also a strong priority of DFAT’s development program, including social protection. Felicity O Brien shares how the Mahkota program supports the government of Indonesia on disability inclusive social protection policies.  The program supported development of government regulations for the national disability law, including social welfare and rehabilitation. Key contributions of Mahkota included bringing the important voices of People with Disabilities to the discussion and strengthening disability data through a new disability survey. Verena Damerau shared how GIZ contributes to making social protections systems work towards the full and effective participation of people with disabilities. Disability inclusion competences among GIZ and project staff and key stakeholders is as essential as capacity and awareness strengthening of the general public and the Government officers implementing social protection programs.

Another challenge for inclusive social protection systems David (UNICEF) highlighted is the design of accessible, comprehensive and reliable disability assessment and determination mechanisms needed for case management and policy planning, e.g.  UNICEF support in Cambodia and Georgia.

Disability assessment has to provide information on needs of people with disabilities which are diverse and evolve along the life cycle. David highlighted the importance of early identification, as well as assessing the diversity of disability related costs and the implications for community support and care services for children with disabilities and their families, which are all key areas of future work for UNICEF, some of which will be done jointly with the World Bank. For working age, economic inclusion is the big challenge. Alexander Hobinka shared some of GIZ work in Bangladesh and Indonesia.  GIZ combines necessary mechanisms and services for people with disabilities, such as return to work, rehabilitation, peer to peer counseling, inclusive placement services and also the establishment of an inclusive accident insurance for workers.

For older persons a key issue is the accessibility and inclusive design of old-age pensions often not reaching old people with disabilities. Laura illustrated how FCDO supported the government of Uganda to make old age grant more inclusive, for example through home enrollment processes to tackle barriers to access enrollment points in communities and also by linking grant delivery with other initiatives such as tests and treatments for eye related health issues. A key issue in the design of old age benefit is also that the rarely consider disability related extra costs. 

Meredith Wyse from ADB highlighted the rapid demographic transition in the Asian Pacific region and the importance of community care and support services and systems for older persons with disabilities. ADB has been supporting countries in the strategic planning process for the development of such system, considering the system ‘building blocks’ of services, governance, human resources, financing, quality management and collaboration. Key to the process is developing a common understanding and vision for care and support services. and clarifying the role in the system of different stakeholders, such as Government, CSOs and private sector communities and individuals. ADB has also supported the integration of community care and service delivery in several countries, e.g. China or Tonga.

The engagement of Persons with Disabilities in social protection reforms was a common thread running throughout the interventions of all speakers. Alradi Abdalla explained how the IDA has been intensifying its work on social protection over the past three years, working with OPDs to develop their capacity and to support their engagement. Jointly with partners, including ILO, UNICEF, EU and UNPRPD, IDA was particularly active in Asia and Africa, including through the organization of trainings, disability fora, conferences, communities of practice and platforms for engagement.

Finally, deputy Director of the ILO Social Protection Department, Valérie Schmitt recalled the reached consensus through the Joint statement: Towards inclusive social protection systems supporting the full and effective participation of persons with disabilities agencies developed following the last Global Disability Summit in 2018, on “what” should be done to ensure social protection systems work for the inclusion of people with disability. Since then, through the activities of the UNPRPD financed programme jointly implemented by ILO, UNICEF, IDA and other partners, the social protection community together with the disability movement are working towards a consensus on “how” to achieve this, based on successful experience and practices around the world. As a follow-up to the programme, the interagency-group will open a consultation process on the related guidance note for Designing social protection systems to maximize inclusion of people with disability. The ILO is firmly committed to continuing the fruitful collaboration with all co-organizers of the side event and other partners on this road.


This is the second blog post in the USP2030 blog series. It was first published on 2 March 2022 on