Empowering persons with disabilities in Somalia

UNDP Somalia
5 min readMar 20, 2024


By Hodan Abdullahi and Ahmed Abdirizack Mohamed

In a world where inclusivity is paramount, Somalia faces unique challenges in ensuring the integration and empowerment of Persons with Disabilities (PWDs). Marginalized due to years of civil unrest, terrorism, and a lack of infrastructure, Somalia’s PWDs have struggled to find their place in society.

The number of PWDs in Somalia constitute a sizeable segment of the population, although there is no precise data from Somalia, WHO approximates disability at 16% of all individuals globally. Their ability to participate in daily life is frequently severely limited by inaccessible infrastructure and social isolation. In the nation, very little of the new infrastructure is designed to accommodate their needs, exacerbating their marginalization.

Following several successive meetings with the National Disability Agency (NDA), which was launched in 2021, Accelerator Lab and NDA collaborated to design a series of activities with the main objective of enhancing the capacity of civil society groups for advocacy, promote the integration of disability rights into broader discussions, initiate public discourse on disability issues and amplify the voices of individuals with disabilities within the digital sphere.

Figure 1: Systems map current state of disability problem.

To understand the situation of PWDs in Somalia, the accelerator lab team went on missions to different areas, such as Hargesia, Garowe and in Mogadishu and met with CSO’s, NGO’s, schools and individuals living with disability to understand the external and internal barriers facing them, social standing, systemic and structural barriers they face. A visual report was prepared by the team along with the Somali Storytellers on the disability schools in Hargeisa. These exploratory visits gave a new dimension to what is actually possible in terms of implementation and inspired the team to adopt “real options reasoning,” which is closely related to the portfolio approach in problem-solving. real options reasoning emphasizes the importance of recognizing and valuing flexibility, uncertainty, and the ability to adapt in the face of changing circumstances. Rather than viewing decisions as irreversible commitments, real options reasoning suggests treating them as opportunities to create and manage options for future actions. This highly flexible approach helped us experiment with addressing the problem along it’s different dimensions. The area chosen was Puntland, a federal member state within Somalia which as the time was experiencing highly sensitive political climate between government and opposition parties at time of elections.

Figure (2): Proposed Solutions

As in Figure (2) initiatives prioritize inclusivity and aim to leave no one behind by 2030. The initial design was reformulated to focus on capacity building for Organizations Representing Persons with Disabilities (OPDs). Which was followed by a series of grants to assist them in starting their own initiatives aimed at promoting inclusivity in their communities. Another dimension was Media starting the dialogue on PwD participation in the public sphere and sensitive reporting. The final angle was increasing inclusivity in the digital sphere where we working on increasing accessibility to digital infrastructure and platforms.

Building from the ground-up

As a first step to prepare Organizations Representing Persons with Disabilities (OPDs) to go beyond financial or physical aid to a firm standing to actively change the situation of PWD. UNDP designed a full training program focusing on empowering OPDs to advocate for the rights and inclusion of PWDs. Through advanced training sessions, OPDs were equipped with project management, organizational theory, advocacy skills, resource mobilization strategies, and effective communication techniques. The state president was part of the inaugurating opening ceremony and to which the NGO’s present influenced to pass a much awaited for disability bill.

Grants to channel impact: UNDP’s approach emphasizes the importance of local solutions to address the unique challenges faced by PWDs in Somalia. By providing micro-grants to OPDs after the completion of the trainings, UNDP enables them to implement projects tailored to their communities’ needs. From vocational training programs to inclusive education initiatives, these projects are transforming perceptions and creating tangible opportunities for PWDs.

Media and community outreach: A short training session for media organizations in Puntland was instrumental in achieving inclusive representation of persons with disabilities (PWD) in daily programming. The training also aimed to instil a sense of sensitivity to content creation and the portrayal of PWD in local media.

Digital and disability: According to preliminary estimates from an ongoing study led by the NDA, individuals with disabilities have the least access to digital devices. Field visits conducted by the UNDP accelerator lab team confirmed similar findings, as people with disabilities are among the lowest income brackets.

The Acclab Somalia is launching a fully equipped disability digital lab in partnership with YPEER, a local youth-centered NGO that will oversee the lab’s operations and assist people with disabilities with a dedicated advisor. Equipped with computers, a Braille printer, and fast connectivity, the aim is to open the lab to both students and teachers in local disability schools, as well as to organizations working with people with disabilities.

Another initiative in the digital realm involves incorporating inclusivity features into one of the digital platforms supported by the Digital X program (Shaqooabuur). This employment platform provides youth with opportunities to find employment and training placements in both the public and private sectors.

In Somalia, the journey towards inclusivity for PWDs is ongoing. Through collaborative efforts and innovative solutions, UNDP Somalia @SomaliaAcclab and its partners are paving the way for a more inclusive society where all individuals, regardless of ability, can thrive. Together, we can transform perceptions and empower Persons with Disabilities to reach their full potential.

The insights and input from this learning experiment were instrumental in supporting UNDP formulate a project on disability under its Rule of Law Portfolio in Somalia, as part of the Joint Implementation Plan (JIP), agreed with the King Salman Humanitarian Aid and Relief Center Foundation (KSrilief). The JIP provides support to vulnerable people, including PWDs in areas affected by conflict, crises and natural disasters across the Arab region and beyond.

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Ms. Abdullahi is the Head of Exploration at Accelerator Lab, UNDP Somalia. Mr. Abdirizack is the Youth Development Delegate, Accelerator Lab, UNDP Somalia. Follow the authors @HodanAbdull and @Bisinleyare in X.com respectively.



UNDP Somalia

The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) works to achieve the eradication of poverty and the reduction of inequalities and exclusion.