Advancing disability rights and leadership globally®

Leveling Up in Disability Inclusion: 3 International Development NGOs Share What’s Working


What's working in the field of disability-inclusive international development? Three organizations varying in size, scope and more share their best practices, which have been recognized by InterAction's Disability Inclusion Award. By Susan Sygall and Ashley Holben

Every so often we have the honor of participating in a discussion which begins to answer the question, “In the field of disability-inclusive international development, what’s working?”

In a recent webinar hosted by MIUSA, “Disability Inclusion Award Honorees Share Practices,” three international development organizations set out to explore that very question. Humbly acknowledging that there’s still so much to do, staff from Save the Children, MADRE, and WEEMA described their guiding principles, strategies and practices for infusing disability inclusion into the DNA of their work.

Despite the differences among these three organizations – in terms of size, scope, mission, and more – all three have been recognized by InterAction for their disability-inclusive efforts with the Disability Inclusion Award in recent years. In addition, all are members of MIUSA’s initiative known as Excellence in Development and Disability Inclusion (EDDI), and we appreciate that they were willing to share their unique experiences with the other organizations in the EDDI member community who joined the webinar.

EDDI members: Access the webinar recording in the latest EDDI e-news or request the link here.

Not an EDDI member? Visit our membership page to learn more.

Below, we’ve distilled the webinar into several remarks and reflections from presenters throughout the webinar that we found especially insightful.

Guiding Philosophy

  • There will always be excuses about being too difficult or too expensive, but at the end of the day, disability inclusion is non-negotiable because equal access to the same rights and opportunities is non-negotiable.
  • Disability inclusion is a journey; In order to live up to your values, you need to create a roadmap for change.
  • The first step in shifting power to others is… listening.
  • To advance disability inclusion at the organizational level, there needs to be commitment from leadership.
  • We need to have humility about what we do.
  • The commitment to disability inclusion must take the same priority as the inclusion of other underrepresented groups. There is no other minority community that you would expect to enter a building through a separate back door or side door, so why should this be acceptable for people with disabilities?


  • Make disability inclusion part of your intentional strategic plan, which includes intersectional components.
  • Decide that disability inclusion is going to be part of the organization’s identity.
  • Disability inclusion has to be a twin track of both disability-inclusive programs and disability-focused programs.
  • Form in-depth partnerships with organizations run by and for people with disabilities, including those run by and for women and girls with disabilities. This effort requires resources (in terms of funding, time and expertise) which may not be donor-driven, so make this a priority above and beyond donor mandates.
  • Grant-making organizations should train all of their grantees on the principles and procedures for disability inclusion.
  • Commit 20% of your grantmaking funds to grantees that are run by and for people with disabilities, especially disabled women and girls.
  • Grant-making organizations should realize that disability-led organizations may need additional capacity-building. Offer guidance or training about the basics of applying for grants, writing budgets, or even how to participate in Zoom calls.


  • Websites and physical sites have to be accessible. Information has to be available in formats that are accessible to people with diverse disabilities. For example, provide materials in easy-to-read plain language for people with intellectual disabilities.
  • Budget for disability inclusion so you always have the funds needed for disability-related accommodations such as sign language interpreters, captioning, accessible transportation, plain language materials, and more.


  • Hire disabled staff and consultants who view disability with a human rights lens.
  • Form and listen to disabled employee affinity groups.
  • Staff want to be part of an organization that adheres to its values; When InterAction recognizes an organization with the Disability Inclusion Award, it sets a high standard that motivates that organization’s staff and leaders.
  • Hire young disabled women, who may be uniquely positioned to reach adolescent disabled girls in many countries. In addition to having an intersectional perspective, they may also have an understanding of working with protective parents.

Inclusive Education

  • Education is for all children, including disabled children.
  • Children with and without disabilities can and should learn together, including in rural communities.
  • Provide trainings about inclusive education for government officials, local leaders, teachers, parents, and others. After everyone gets trained, have trainees make an action plan on what they will accomplish in the coming year, and hold them accountable to their commitments.
  • As part of a twin-track approach, inclusive schools should also provide disability-focused resources to students with disabilities as needed and appropriate.
  • Teach basic sign language to all students and all teachers.
  • To equip the inclusive school with disability-specific resources (such as sign language instruction or braille embossers), seek expertise from schools for the deaf, schools for the blind, and other specialists.
  • Create and share short, powerful, and captioned videos which promote the message that all kids can learn together.

Utilizing MIUSA and EDDI Resources

  • We don’t know what we don’t know, so invite organizations such as MIUSA to share information and experiences as part of in-person, virtual, or hybrid training.
  • Ask MIUSA to recommend organizations that are led by people with disabilities, for people with disabilities in countries around the world where it has contacts.
  • Display the EDDI member logo badge on your website to demonstrate your organization’s involvement and commitment to inclusive excellence.
  • “As an EDDI member organization, MIUSA provided us introductions to disability activists, including disabled women activists, and people we could hire as staff as consultants.”
  • “Being a member of EDDI provided access to webinars on the Guiding Principles of Disability Inclusion, many how-to resources, as well as learning from other EDDI members.”

Appreciation for Our Presenters

Thank you again to our presenters for their willingness to candidly share their journeys – including achievements and pitfalls – and above all, for their persistence and passion:

Lianna Tabar, Director of Programs at WEEMA International
David Barth, Vice President of International Programs at Save the Children
Laura Martinez, Program Coordinator at MADRE

Resources from the Presenters

Save the Children’s Policy Paper on Disability Inclusion
MADRE’s Practice Note and Partnership with MIUSA
WEEMA’s video on Inclusive Education

Header image: With support from MADRE, disabled women in Sierra Leone lead the charge to disperse aid and personal protective equipment to communities amid COVID-19. Courtesy of MADRE. Photo Credit: WoDYEO

Author: Ashley H

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