This article focuses on the work of five civil society organizations in an urban environment in India that work with persons with disabilities. In this qualitative study we examine how leaders in these non-governmental organizations (NGOs) conceptualize disability and implement programming. These conceptualizations are examined through the lens of transnationalism, highlighting how global policies and economic structures, as well as national policies and local organizational constraints, inform decision-making on NGOs related to their approach to disability. Narratives of normativity emerged as the core philosophy guiding the organizations’ work. In all cases, encouraging persons with disabilities to become more ‘normal’ was a tactic used to gain access to workplaces. Findings highlight the relative powerlessness of small organizations in competitive economic environments and the unwillingness to engage in policy discourse that is deemed ‘empty’ by organizational leaders. The result of such actions may lead to ‘assimilative’ rather than ‘inclusive’ development.Points of interest There are millions of non-governmental organizations in India, some of which focus on disability. This study examined how non-governmental organizations understand disability and plan for programs. Staff in organizations felt trapped because policies protecting the rights of persons with disabilities were poorly implemented. Further, unemployment in India is high, so staff encouraged persons with disabilities to hide evidence of impairment to avoid discrimination. The study shows that staff chose short-term tactics because of their day-to-day realities, but these tactics may not be strategic for long-term change.
- civil society
- inclusive development
- non-governmental organizations