‘Discrimination is unacceptable’: Penny Mordaunt champions disability rights

New development secretary to announce plans for Britain’s first global disability summit at keynote address in London

Penny Mordaunt, Britain’s new international development secretary, is to place a commitment to tackling discrimination against disabled people at the heart of the government’s development strategy.

Millions are lost every year, said Mordaunt, because people with disabilities in the world’s poorest countries do not have the support they need to access employment.

In her keynote address on Thursday, the former disability minister will announce the UK’s first global disability summit, to be held in 2018. The summit aims to bring together global leaders and technology companies to tackle the barriers that prevent people with disabilities from fulfilling their potential.

Speaking ahead of her speech at Microsoft’s headquarters in London, Mordaunt described discrimination against disabled people as “unacceptable” and vowed to help transform their lives.

She said: “For too long many people living with disabilities in the world’s poorest countries have not been able to fulfil their potential due to stigma or a lack of practical support. They are, for example, missing out on school and the chance to work.

“Discrimination is unacceptable in today’s society. I want us all to act now and break down the barriers people with all disabilities face in their everyday lives, so they are not short-changed on opportunities to use their entrepreneurial spirit to help their countries prosper.

“That’s why I am bringing technology companies, governments and charities together at the UK government’s first ever global disability summit in London in July 2018, to show our commitment to transform the lives of people living with disabilities.”

The summit will be co-hosted with the International Disability Alliance, a global coalition of disabled rights groups.

In her previous role as disability minister, Mordaunt, the MP for Portsmouth North, championed the idea that innovation and technology can play an important role in helping disabled people.

She was given the development brief by Theresa May earlier this month, following the resignation of her predecessor Priti Patel over unofficial meetings with Israeli officials.

Hugh Milward, a senior director at Microsoft, said: “Microsoft believes that technology can play a critical role in removing barriers and empowering people with disabilities. At this moment, the world is at the dawn of a data- and technology-driven fourth industrial revolution, and these technologies enable governments and organisations to change the way they deliver services to their communities, customers and colleagues.”

Joanna Clark, director of the international development charity Deaf Child Worldwide, described Mordaunt’s initiative as “an important step in the right direction” but emphasised the scale of the challenge.

“Ninety per cent of disabled children in developing countries never get close to a classroom,” said Clark. “For those children that do, huge barriers still remain. I see too many deaf children whose teachers can’t communicate with them, lessons that don’t engage them and students who don’t understand them.

“So while we welcome today’s announcement, we should be in no doubt that huge challenges remain for people with disabilities across the developing world.”