Breaking down Barriers: Research and capacity building for disability advocacy

'Breaking down Barriers’ was initiated by the Liliane Foundation and the African Studies Centre (Leiden University) to identify the success factors of advocacy for children with disabilities. Together with One Family People in Sierra Leone, The Cameroon Baptist Convention Health Services and Cheshire Homes Society of Zambia, the programme uses academic research as input to build capacity for effective disability advocacy.

Insights from research

The learning trajectory Breaking Down Barriers began in April 2015. In 2016, research was done in Cameroon and Sierra Leone. This was undertaken by talented Dutch students with the support of local scientists. The surveys are coordinated and guided from the Netherlands.

The findings thus far have partially confirmed existing assumptions, but also led to numerous new insights. A few examples:

  • Role models (of successful people with disabilities) can help youth with disabilities to overcome a lack of self esteem and inspire them to be successful themselves.
  • Effective advocacy strategies needs to take intersectionality into account: girls with disabilities are not only discriminated against because they have a disability, but also because of their gender and age.
  • The possibilities and limitations for lobbying and advocacy vary widely with the political system and the political structure of a country.
  • Advocacy is usually a long-term effort and involves building up relations with power holders. This requires a physical presence close to where power holders reside.
  • Providing evidence that children with disabilities can be successful is key to challenging negative stereotypes.
  • Many challenges faced by the disability movement faces are similar to those experienced by other movements (e.g. women’s, youth). The disability movement can learn from other movements - and vice versa.

Sharing knowledge and results

Sharing the lessons learned and the knowledge gained from the trajectory is a continuous process. In 2017 the Breaking down Barriers website www.barriersfree.org was launched. On this website, project sheets and master theses about the success factors of lobby and advocacy can be downloaded. Trainings for our Strategic Partner Organizations – initially in English, for our partners in English speaking African countries – are being developed, as well as an e-learning tool.

Moreover, the research findings enable the Liliane Foundation to develop an evidence-based Theory of Change for disability advocacy.