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International Development Needs Workers with Disabilities

June 21, 2016

By Elizabeth Heideman

Woman with shoulder length blond hair

Elizabeth Heideman



Before I came to D.C., I already knew the facts: that there are over 1 billion people with disabilities in the world and that 80% of them live in developing countries. I knew that people with disabilities are the poorest of the poor and living on the fringes of society, out of sight and out of mind—even to the people trying to make the world a more equitable place. Indeed, traditional development efforts and the UN’s Millennium Development Goals of the 2000s may have actually marginalized disabled people further due to their complete lack of inclusion according to some experts.

I knew that the development world needed people with disabilities in the field, but I couldn’t have imagined just how much until this summer.

Since the first day of orientation for this year’s USICD Youth in International Development and Foreign Affairs internship, I’ve seen development and human rights practitioners from a variety of organizations have their eyes opened to what it truly means to practice inclusive development. After their PowerPoint presentations and their pre-prepared talking points, I’ve seen them look up and into the faces of my fellow interns and I and realize that this is what their work is truly about—ensuring that young people around the world with disabilities like us can have the opportunity to get an education, get jobs and maybe even join in the fight themselves for a better future for all.

Some organizations who presented at orientation—in fact, most of them—admitted that they were still learning how to include people with disabilities. And that’s okay. USICD gave us the chance to create an interactive dialogue with the speakers, discussing things like the realities of field work for development practitioners with disabilities, website accessibility (or lack thereof) and what it really means to have an inclusive hiring strategy.

Starting my first week of work, I encountered some small access issues in the office. My host organization resolved them quickly and graciously, but more importantly, my access needs were able to demonstrate the real, human side of inclusive development and that “leaving no one behind” includes taking that first step of hiring qualified disabled professionals right here in D.C.

Since arriving here, I, as an intern, have learned a lot. But I think the development professionals we’ve interacted with have too, and that can only help us on this ever-evolving journey of sustainable, inclusive development for all.

Elizabeth Heideman is one of the participants in the 2016 USICD Youth in International Development and Foreign Affairs internship program.  She and other USICD program interns are writing a series of blog posts about their experiences with USICD’s internship program, to be posted at this blog.  USICD coordinates the internship program, which brings a cohort of students and recent graduates with disabilities to Washington, DC, each summer to complete internships at various international organizations in the Washington, DC, area.  Elizabeth Heideman is completing her internship at the National Democratic Institute (NDI).  Learn more about USICD’s internship program at  Read the biographies of our interns in the summer 2016 program.  The views and opinions expressed at this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of USICD or NDI.

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