‘Nothing about us without us’: Why every organisation should consider partnerships with Disabled People’s Organisations

Karen Alexander, Alexandra Devine, Lana Logam, Laisa Vereti and Whitney Yip

22 Oct, 2020

Reflecting on the commitment to collaboration in ACFID’s Code of Conduct, the team behind the Research For All Guide explore why partnerships with Disabled People’s Organisations are relevant and beneficial for all organisations.


In a nut-shell, why should organisations think about partnerships with Disabled People's Organisations (DPOs)?


It is difficult to describe why in a nutshell. Genuine, resourced, and ethical partnerships with Disabled People’s Organisations (DPOs) and/or other minority-led, local organisations are important to development and humanitarian agencies and prudent in a myriad of ways.

From a ‘doing good’ perspective, partnerships mean achieving effective development outcomes and ensuring culturally responsive and inclusive programming and services; we don’t know what we don’t know.

From a ‘human rights’ perspective, inclusion is a righand not a privilege. We all have the right to self-determination and that includes people who have been marginalised by mainstream society having a say in development outcomes, humanitarian responses and policymaking

From a ‘diversity and inclusion’ perspective, the meaningful inclusion of diverse lived experiences and perspectives ensures a nuanced, comprehensive project process that benefits all people with an inclusive outcome

From an anti-colonial stance, it is a shift in power from ‘donor countries’ to local communities. Partnerships allows for mutual accountability, sharing of resources, capacity-building and collaborative approach to problem-solving. 

From a purely transactional, ‘good business sense, inclusive programs, services, and products are more likely to be usedhave a longer (positive) impact, and align better to the values of donors and communities. 

Are partnerships with Disabled People’s Organisations relevant for organisations that don’t have disability-specific initiatives? 

All organisations should be thinking about partnerships with DPOs. Whether a project is a mainstream initiative or a disability-specific initiative, the meaningful inclusion of people with disabilities and their representative organisation recognises that all people have the right to contribute to society.   

What are the benefits of partnering with Disabled People’s Organisations?

The benefits of partnerships with DPOs range from the immediate to long-term. Immediately, there is the inclusion of people with disabilitiesmodeling of best-practices, and two-way capacity building between people. Sharing expertise builds a much deeper understanding of local context and ensures that development programs are both relevant to, and beneficial forwhole communities. 

Over the long-term, there is a demonstrable shift in power and resources and embedded inclusiveness in all development initiatives. This will also contribute to a breakdown in negative stereotypes and misconceptions of people with disabilities

 What challenges need to be overcome in making these partnerships work? 

The challenges of inclusive partnerships include building the right and genuine relationships with DPOs and dedicating a budget line to resource DPOs. Many DPOs have limited human resource, with very limited access to sustainable resourcing, and can be over-stretched by their own advocacy work. It is incredibly important that DPOs are supported to keep their own objectives at front and centre, when asked to partner and assist other organisations. 

Ensuring sufficient funding and other support genuinely facilitates a shared working relationship – an equal partnership - with DPOs and people with disabilities. This can also include funding for sign language interpreters, personal assistants, support persons to enable the participation of persons with disabilities. Having accessible office locations, meeting venues, capacity-building activities, and the use of a variety of different communication mediums to distribute and disseminate information in accessible formats

It is also important to identify appropriate DPOs to partner with by ensuring that the DPO truly reflects the needs and voices of the disability community. Organisations that aim to be inclusive, cannot assume to speak on behalf of people with disabilities needs and wants, nor should they be influenced by differing priorities or agendas for power. To offer a safe environment to participate and contribute to projects is to be inclusive of people with disabilities

Equally, to offer a safe environment for all people is to fund disability-inclusive training for project staff with and without disabilitiesAgain, this can be done using collaborative approaches in the design and delivery of training and capacity building

Top 3 tips for organisations wanting to work more closely with Disabled People’s Organisations 

  1. Ensure that any research and subsequent programming has mutual or shared objectives that align with the work and the focus of the partnering DPOs.

  1. Build relationships with DPOs by volunteering at events, listening and supporting DPO-led advocacy, and sharing power.  

  1. Read the guide, Research for All: Making Research Inclusive of People with Disabilities to embed disability-inclusive practices across the research cycle.  


The Research for All Guide was developed in partnership by CBM Australia, Nossal Institute for Global Health, the Pacific Disability Forum and RDI NetworkFind out more about the Guide in this 3-part webinar series which explores the content in-depth. 


  • Karen Alexander, Alexandra Devine, Lana Logam, Laisa Vereti and Whitney Yip
    Karen Alexander, Alexandra Devine, Lana Logam, Laisa Vereti and Whitney Yip

    Karen Alexander (CBM Inclusion Advisory Group), Alexandra Devine (Nossal Institute for Global Health), Lana Logam (Nossal Institute for Global Health), Laisa Vereti (Pacific Disability Forum), Philippa Smales (RDI Network) and Whitney Yip (RDI Network) partnered together to develop the Research for All Guide. This Guide provides practical direction and support for practitioners in designing and implementing mainstream research in a disability-inclusive and accessible way; as well as providing examples of disability-focused research implemented with and by people with disabilities.

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