Disability inclusion is a process of making the concerns and experiences of persons with disabilities integral to development planning. The design, implementation, monitoring and evaluation of policies, as well as programmes in all political, economic and societal spheres, should ensure that all benefit equally, and inequality is not perpetuated.
In the context of Lao PDR, socio-economic inclusion of persons with disabilities is best achieved when relevant ministries and Mass Organizations ensure their policies and programmes are inclusive. The 9th National and Socio-Economic Development Plan (NSEDP) has an aspiration to address such exclusion through creation of employment opportunities, strengthening social welfare schemes and by developing a national data base to be rolled out in all 18 provinces.
Lao PDR has ratified the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) and the prevalence of disability amongst the population could be much higher if data is collected on the basis of the definition of a person with disability according to article(1) of the CRPD. The number in Lao PDR constitutes 2.8% of the total population according to the national census of 2015. The population-weighted prevalence for the Asia-Pacific region is around 4.6%, making a stark contrast to the global prevalence of 15.3 % as estimated by World Health Organization (WHO).
Earmarking certain percentage of budget for disability inclusion by key ministries such as Health, Education, Public Works and Transport, including reservation through a quota system in education and employment as done in many countries results in inclusion. Disability assessment and issuance of identity cards are key prerequisites to identify persons with disabilities with long-term impairments and to ensure access to social protection and other benefits provided by the government.
Despite a national legislation and institutional mechanisms in place, persons with disabilities in the country continue to face discrimination and barriers. Persons with disabilities are often believed to bring misfortune according to cultural beliefs. As a result, families often do not share information about them at the time of census enumeration. Persons with intellectual disabilities and hearing impairment remain unrecognized to large extent as their impairments are not visible and therefore chances of not being counted in censuses is relatively high. Thus, increase in awareness of their rights as guaranteed under the national disability law along with addressing stigma against persons with disabilities are prerequisites for inclusion.
Currently, the national government, through the Ministry of Labor and Social Welfare (MoLSW) is collecting nationwide data on number of poor families and low-income households who are in urgent need of assistance due to the current wave of COVID-19. As majority of persons with disabilities fall in the same spectrum, it is critical for the local authorities and village volunteers involved, to be made aware of who these individuals are according to the national disability law-.
Disability inclusion should be cross-sectoral. Actors such as civil society organizations, donors and other development partners should design their development plans, projects and programs to address the needs and concerns of persons with disabilities. For instance, nutrition or immunization programmes should specifically target children with disabilities. While there are 172 INGOs in the country implementing 158 projects, it is also imperative to know how many projects have actually mainstreamed disability.
The National Committee for Disabled and Elderly (NCDE) established under the law should be further strengthened to monitor and report on the inclusion of disability in the policies and programmes of relevant ministries and development partners at the national and sub-national level.
Participation of persons with disabilities in decision making process is a cross –cutting principle of the CRPD and hall mark of good governance. The United Nations (UN) Disability Inclusion Strategy promotes consultation with organization of persons with disabilities and provides a basis for sustainable and transformative progress on disability inclusion through all pillars of the work of the UN. The Strategy promotes a system-wide disability inclusion policy, an accountability framework and other modalities.
The Governance for Inclusive Development Programme implemented by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in partnership with the Ministry of Home Affairs and development partners such as Swiss Development Cooperation, has integrated disability as a cross –cutting issue. The Service Users Feedback Survey is one of the flagship activities of the project capturing the opinion of persons with disabilities about public service delivery so that persons with disabilities have equal access to services provided by local authorities.
 Article 1 of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities defines persons with disabilities as those who have long-term physical, mental, intellectual or sensory impairments which in interaction with various barriers may hinder their full and effective participation in society on an equal basis with others.
 Building Disability-Inclusive Societies in Asia and the Pacific-Assessing progress of the Incheon Strategy, ESCAP,2018
Mr. Bagival Pradeep Kumar, Chief Technical Advisor, National Governance and Public Administration Reform Programme, Governance Unit, UNDP Lao PDR.
The views expressed in this article are those of the authors alone and not the United Nations Development Programme.