Disability Inclusion in Social Protection

Published on 13 January 2014

While people with disabilities have higher rates of poverty than people without disabilities, many countries have tried to address this by providing social protection to poor people with disabilities and their households (World Report on Disability, 2011, p. 11). Their right to this protection is enshrined in Article 28 of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCPRD) which recognises the “right of persons with disabilities to social protection and to the enjoyment of that right without discrimination on the basis of disability”

There is currently a lack of knowledge around the extent to which “barriers in design or implementation are keeping people with disabilities from receiving mainstream social protection benefits” and whether specifically designed benefits are “reaching the right people or providing them with the necessary support” (Mont, 2010, pp. 320-321).

The literature refers generally to all types of disabilities with little examination made of possible differences between the experiences of people with different types of disabilities. There is however a small focus on disabled war veterans who often receive priority assistance before the rest of the disabled population.

However, there is increasing interest in disability inclusion in social protection policies, strategies and programmes (expert comments) and this rapid literature review draws together various examples of the integration of disability issues within cash transfer and broader social protection programmes, strategies and policies, in low- and low-middle-income contexts in the past few years.

It looks at the main issues and selected examples of i) the inclusion of disability in social protection policies and strategies; ii) social protection programmes addressing disability and; iii) complementary programmes/services. The majority of information available focuses on programmes which specifically target people with disabilities rather than mainstream social protection programmes which are disability inclusive.

The literature suggests that the key rationale behind disability inclusive social protection policies and strategies is the UNCRPD, along with the susceptibility of persons with disabilities to chronic poverty and social exclusion. Donors have also adopted the principles of the UNCPRD in their support for developing countries’ national social protection policies and programmes. Examples are provided from Kenya, Rwanda and Indonesia.

Disability inclusive social protection programmes are designed to alleviate the additional cost of the barriers faced by people with disabilities. The implementation of disability inclusive social protection policies faces a number of problems as social protection programmes do not reach the vast majority of people with disabilities. They face physical barriers, communication barriers, attitudinal barriers, and a lack of sensitivity or awareness.

  • Types of programmes: i) targeted specifically at people with disabilities; ii) mainstream programmes aimed generally at groups at risk of poverty; and iii) targeted mainstream programmes explicitly including people with disabilities.
  • Targeting: programmes can target all disabled people, or be means tested for a particular level or type of disability, or targeted at children with disabilities. This tends to be medically focused but targeting on the basis of a combination of medical and social criteria is best as this recognises people’s capabilities if given the right opportunities.
  • Coverage levels: effectiveness of disability inclusive social protection programmes limited by low coverage.

Examples of disability inclusive social protection programmes are provided from Zambia, Uganda, India, Afghanistan, and Indonesia, amongst others.

  • Challenges for disability inclusive social protection programmes include: lack of data, costly monitoring systems, costs outweighing the benefits, lack of awareness and access, insufficient budgets, and a disincentive to work.

Social protection programmes on their own will not eliminate the vulnerabilities persons with disabilities face. Therefore complementary programmes are needed to create an enabling environment for people with disabilities, such as adaptations to the built environment, inclusive education, rehabilitation and vocational training services, and the enactment and enforcement of disability legislation.


Brigitte Rohwerder

Research Officer

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Rohwerder, B.


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