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Intersectionality of Sustainability and Disability10 min read

Intersectionality of Sustainability and Disability

Close to one billion people, 15% of the global population, live with some form of disability. Aging, chronic health issues, and mental health disorders are significant factors contributing to disability worldwide. Thus, it is now critical to address these far-reaching global disability issues proactively together.

The 2030 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are committed to “Leave No One Behind” regardless of social identity.

This article addresses the Intersectionality of Sustainability and Disability. While in this field, much attention has been given to gender and race; here, it is extended to disability. Starting from the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD), we at Ruh Global IMPACT explore the relationship of intersectionality, sustainability, and disability.

Intersectionality is an approach for studying and challenging power, as it exists, is produced, and is reinforced systemically and structurally. It is crucial for addressing structural power imbalances that inhibit progress toward UN Sustainable Development Goals.

Sociologists use intersectional lenses to examine an increasingly more comprehensive range of processes and identities, yet the intersection of race and disability remains a particularly neglected area in sociology.

Since international development initiatives have existed, they have often been to the benefit of productivity and to the detriment of those considered unable to produce. This structure inadvertently has created a depiction of disability that has been notoriously resistant to erosion — a characterization that people with disabilities are less capable and, as a result, less valued as human beings. This is a denial of dignity and perpetuation of prejudice that must be addressed in ongoing humanitarian efforts like the SDGs.

This brings us to the global action on the SDGs. Sustainability and social justice are two sides of the same coin: It is impossible to have a sustainable future without also ensuring sustainability applies to all. Efforts made by the ILO, the WHO, and the UN to include disability into an overall vision for the future must be matched with policy efforts to do the same. There is no uniform policy approach that can easily be implemented into all policymaking environments to address the significant disparities faced by people with disabilities, nor should there be, depending on a nation’s infrastructure, resources, and policy environment. But there are ways to begin this process — ways to bring people with disabilities from objects of shame to humans who are valued members of society.


Woman with disabilities

Language is central to disability politics; negative language can reinforce oppression and discrimination. Using positive language and the social model is vital to achieving an intersectional approach in building enabling and inclusive support services for people with disabilities

Intersectionality is the concept that diverse people and institutions are interconnected. This could be the identification of individual people such as race, religion, disabled, etc., or it could be the variety of discourses and theories such as feminism, social inclusion, etc. All these topics and approaches are interconnected in work towards sustainable development. We must understand each identity and each group in order to understand the root of societal problems and how to address them. For example, inclusive education is not just a subject that includes education systems. This topic must involve persons with disabilities, women, people of color, communities, policymakers, etc., to address the issues and move toward more inclusive programming. This concept is very similar to a multi-stakeholder approach in that various groups must come together in order to meet the goals set by the United Nations.

The key to understanding intersectionality is collecting the right data, including data disaggregated by sex, age, and disability, which is a critical step towards making better-informed decisions and allocating resources more effectively (van Ek and Schot, 2017).

This helps determine differential impacts and expose hidden trends and problems that may lead to vulnerable and marginalized people being left behind.

The disaggregation of data must be strengthened towards supporting the analysis of more complex intersecting dimensions of vulnerability and make visible those people who are most marginalized in specific contexts. Better collection and use of disaggregated data are essential, both for understanding intersecting inequalities and for targeting interventions that build resilience for all.


The word ‘disability’ is an umbrella term – it means different things to different people. There is an infinite variety of people within the disabled community, and everyone’s needs and lives are different. If you are disabled, you most likely already know this – but if you are not, it can be challenging to be aware of other people’s differing needs. This is often reflected in the conversations we have about sustainability.

The voices of people with disabilities are often absent, ignored, silenced, or erased relative to the voices of others.

Despite the progress made in developing more intersections, there is still a major blind spot. People with disabilities are still excluded as a major group and often struggle to literally get a seat at the table. People with disabilities face a very specific set of barriers in nearly every aspect of development, from physical accessibility to cognitive accessibility. If these issues are not addressed and eradicated, development will never be fully inclusive. Any person can have a disability regardless of race, religion, ethnicity, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, etc. it is one of the only identities that can transcend and cut across nearly every identity. If you are alive, you could have a disability. Because people with disabilities are often excluded and made invisible, policy often lacks necessary and adequate support. Therefore, if the development community can make every policy keeping in mind that people with disabilities will be affected, we are one step closer to creating a much more inclusive, sustainable world.

Sustainability campaigns are frequently seen to be at odds with disabled peoples’ needs and independent living rights.

Let us start by pushing the obvious out – Intersectionality of Sustainability and Disability do not conflict with each other. Sustainability campaigns need to empower people with disabilities and promote sound policies, not disadvantages and exclusion.

We need to fight against discrimination and focus on sustainability; we can create positive change and make society more inclusive.


Diversity hands with numberic sign

The Agenda 2030 for Sustainable Development, and SDGs within it, is a comprehensive, progressive, and innovative agenda that responds to the many challenges faced by the world today. Following on from the Millennium Development Goals, 193 governments have committed to achieving the SDGs by 2030. Agenda 2030 commits signatory governments to end poverty, create inclusive societies, promote equal rights for all, take up the challenge to battle climate change, and ensure that no one – no individual, no society, no country – is left behind.

The SDGs consist of 17 goals with 169 targets identified to achieve them. The SDGs are based on a three-pronged approach to sustainable development: Economic growth, social inclusion, and environmental protection. Improving on the Millennium Development Goals that did not specifically include people with disabilities, five of the SGDs identify people with disabilities as key agents.

  • Goal 4: Quality Education: Guaranteeing equal and accessible education by building inclusive learning environments and providing the needed assistance for persons with disabilities.
  • Goal 8: Decent Work and Economic Growth: Promoting inclusive economic growth, full and productive employment, allowing persons with disabilities to fully access the job market.
  • Goal 10; Reduced Inequalities: Emphasizing the social, economic, and political inclusion of persons with disabilities.
  • Goal 11: Sustainable Cities and Communities: Creating accessible cities and water resources, affordable, accessible, and sustainable transport systems, providing universal access to safe, inclusive, accessible, and green public spaces.
  • Goal 17: Partnerships for the Goals: Underlining the importance of data collection and monitoring of the SDGs, emphasis on disability disaggregated data.


The UN-SDGs are a great framework to critically look at with an intersectional lens. The SDGs are categorized by People, Planet, Prosperity, Peace, and Partnerships, which overlap with each other, are codependent on each other to be achieved, and are therefore intersectionality related and should be approached as such.

However, before one can fully understand where these intersectionalities exist within the area of inclusive development, it is first essential to understand what intersectionality is.

Many intersectionalities exist within the topic of sustainable development. Three of the most prominent are explored: [1] gender and disability, [2] gender and development, and [3] youth and development. However, many other intersectionalities exist within the subject of sustainable development. These include education and disability and education and poverty. Understanding the relationship between these variables and many more like them is critical to understanding how genuine sustainable development can occur. For example, if one understands how addressing gender disparities can influence overall development or how gender inequities exist with sub-groups such as persons with disabilities, more efficient strategies can be developed. When these relationships are ignored, however, achieving sustainable development can be exceedingly difficult, if not impossible. Intersectionality can also exist within other international agreements that address the issue of sustainable development. For example, intersectionalities exist between the SDGs and the CRPD in terms of inclusive education. Therefore, managing different intersectionalities that exist within the topic of sustainable development is of the utmost importance.

You cannot achieve SDG 1: No Poverty without addressing SDG 8: Decent Work and Economic Growth, which cannot be achieved without the implications that come with SDG 11: Sustainable Cities and Communities, which is directly tied to SDG 13: Climate Action, which has extreme consequences for both SDG 14 & 15: Life Below Water and Life on Land which cannot be achieved without SDG 17: Partnership for the Goals, upon which all the goals are connected to. The overlaps and the realities of all the SDGs are tied to, hinged on, have implications for, and are only achievable through addressing one another – that is at the heart of intersectionality and arguably sustainability broadly.

When considering inclusive, sustainable development, it is critical to understand and provide for the complex intersectionality of identity.

We all have different needs and priorities in our lives; our needs will change as we grow older, have children, or simply change.

Sustainability is also about people. Let us build our conversations around them.

Read more about Inclusive Sustainable Development and Chapter 1: Getting to know the Sustainable Development Goals


Businessmen discussing business plan together

Implementing the 17 SDGs can only be achieved with the strong involvement of all stakeholders.

In the field of development, there is a multitude of actors that promote SDGs and work towards improving the world on many different levels. These levels can go from grassroots movements to local government action to International cooperation.

No single actor or stakeholder, working alone, can therefore implement the CRPD or achieve disability-inclusive development.

For this reason, there has been increased recognition that partnerships between different stakeholders, which draw on the resources and varying competencies of each, are critical for the advancement of the rights and inclusion of persons with disabilities.

At the grassroots level, where NGOs and other developmental organizations that are locally based perform hands-on development work, they operate directly with the target population and do most of the developmental field work necessary to help local communities grow.

Governments also play an essential role in development work as they manage the country’s resources and have more power to fund development projects.

At each level of development, there are partial solutions to meeting the SDGs but still encounter specific difficulties at each layer. The challenges that the different levels of development encounter, however, can be solved using the tools and knowledge that other actors operating at different scales have to offer. 

Partnerships are critical for persons with disabilities and their representative organizations because this is the best way to ensure that the disability community has representation and that the challenges faced by persons with disabilities are accounted for and met in the implementation of the SDGs. Persons with disabilities must therefore take a direct role in these partnerships to ensure that their interests are part of the 2030 Agenda and the SDGs for the years to come.

About the Authors

Lamondré Torohn

LaMondre Pough

Chief Sustainability Officer of Ruh Global IMPACT

passionate speaker, seasoned trainer, and enthusiastic content creator, LaMondre Pough is the Chief Sustainability Officer for Ruh Global IMPACT, host of the podcast 5P with LaMondre (, and the creator of the video series Moment of Impact. His ability to empower his audiences to embrace diversity and create environments where people truly belong has helped him become a renowned speaker, trainer, and content creator.

Using colorful stories and stirring facts, LaMondre touches the heart of his audience and inspires waves of change. Each message, training, or video is a dynamic and unique experience

Nabil Eid

Nabil Eid

Director of Global ICT Accessibility and Inclusion, Ruh Global IMPACT 

His role as the CIO is to help set and lead the ICT accessibility strategy for Ruh Global IMPACT. Nabil has held several positions and worked with numerous NGOs, civil society networks, UN agencies, governments, private sector, and grassroots organizations to successfully create positive change at global, regional, and national levels.

With 20+ years of experience in disability inclusion strategies and ICT4D marginalized communities. Providing counseling, research, evaluation & monitoring, and ICT accessibility solutions and assistive technology services. Author of 8 books about disability inclusion and ICT accessibility

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