Promoting disability leadership in Indonesia

A research project based in Indonesia examines how people with disability are leading efforts for change.

In June 2020 a Presidential Regulation was passed in Indonesia on the National Disability Commission, establishing an independent institution which monitors, evaluates and advocates for the realisation of disability rights across the country.

For Dr Elisabeth Jackson, a Senior Research Fellow at the Institute for Human Security and Social Change at La Trobe University, it was a clear sign of the positive impact that a well-resourced network of disability advocates can achieve.

“It took intensive lobbying from disability advocates in Indonesia to establish the NDC, and it’s a testament to the importance of leadership within the disability community,” says Dr Jackson. “Without their efforts, this wouldn’t have been possible.”

Dr Jackson is co-leading a research project with Ekawati Liu, who has recently completed her PhD at Deakin University, to examine how people with disability  shape local processes of change and development.

“Our research team consists of Indonesians with disabilities who are leaders themselves. They  have been involved in activities like advocating for the legal rights of people with disability, improving accessibility of transport, and promoting Indonesian sign language for many years.” says Dr Jackson. “Each of them brings their own rich experiences to the research. We’re hoping to build on that by talking to disability leaders from across Indonesia.”

The research project is funded by the Developmental Leadership Program (DLP) at the University of Birmingham, an international research initiative funded by the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade that explores how leadership, power and political processes drive or block successful development. For this project, La Trobe University has partnered with Bandung Independent Living Centre and Swinburne University.

The team hopes the project improves understanding of what it takes for Indonesians who have a disability to take a leadership role.

“We want to look at the lived realities of leaders with disability so we can understand what barriers they face and what can support them to lead change in their communities,” says Ekawati Liu.” We can then use our research findings to guide civil society organisations, governments and international donors to better support people with disability to play an active and central role in development.”

The team has started conducting interviews and will release its findings next year.