Breaking the cycle of poverty and disability in South Sulawesi

The province of South Sulawesi has some of Indonesia’s highest rates of economic growth, which should help lift people out of poverty. But a high level of disability in the province indicates that many are being left behind despite economic improvement.


Understanding the experiences that people with disabilities are living with is the aim of a team of Indonesian and Australian researchers.

Through the Partnership for Australia-Indonesia Research (PAIR) the team will document the lives of people with a range of disabilities and the issues that impact them, especially during COVID-19, and develop strategies to help move them out of vulnerable situations.

Read our full backgrounder, “Disability – inclusive development in South Sulawesi” (01/2021) here

The research outcomes will provide an evidence-base for policy-makers to draw upon to better support and empower the disability community in their district or province. The research will also include a gender lens to understand how women and men with disabilities are impacted differently.

Including people with disabilities in development is crucial to an inclusive, productive and healthy society. An educated and healthy workforce are key contributors to income growth. Yet high rates of disability in Indonesia and South Sulawesi could be holding the country and province back from achieving this. Improved economic outcomes and living circumstances for people with disabilities could boost growth and uplift some of the most vulnerable in the community.

Photo by: Arisa Chattasa/Unsplash

In recent years, Indonesia has sought to map instances of disability in each province, using broad parameters to measure disability that have been laid out by the World Health Organisation. These studies have found that in Indonesia 22.0% of respondents to a Basic Health Research survey in 2018 by the Ministry of Health who were aged 18-59 reported suffering a disability in the month prior to the study (RISKESDAS, 2018), compared to the global figure of 15%. This figure was higher for South Sulawesi, at 33.6% (RISKESDAS, 2018).

Indonesia’s 2020-2024 National Mid-Term Development Plan (RPJMN) has made human development a policy priority. The plan focuses on the health of pregnant women and children and aims to reduce stunting and maternal and infant mortality. The plan seeks to improve the quality of education including vocational development, and build Indonesian talent management institutions and support the nation’s talented diaspora. It also sets high targets to assist and uplift people with disabilities. The government plan is to tackle these numerous issues by taking a multisectoral approach and implementing a range of policies and programs.

At a provincial level, the South Sulawesi Provincial Government has outlined its intentions in the 2018-2023 South Sulawesi Mid-Term Development Plan. The plan sets ambitious goals to support people living with disabilities in the province. However, COVID-19 has increased the challenge, as the government and NGOs work to support people with disabilities who have been disproportionately affected by the pandemic.

Read our full backgrounder, “Disability – inclusive development in South Sulawesi” (01/2021) here

However, as argued by Dr Ishak Salim, Co-Founder of the Indonesian Diffable Movement for Equality and member of PAIR’s Research Advisory Panel, the environments that people with disabilities live in also need to be examined. “If we are talking about eradicating or alleviating poverty, we should be talking about reducing disability and disabling environments”, he says.

Environments that disable people are those that hold people with disabilities back from fully participating in the economy and in society. They can include those factors that ‘make up the physical, social and attitudinal environment in which people live and conduct their lives’ (Visagie, et al, 2017) and can include geographical, structural and social factors.

Top photo by: Rio Lecatompessy/Unsplash

Picture of Marlene Millott

PAIR Program Officer
The Australia-Indonesia Centre

Picture of Fadhilah Trya Wulandari

PAIR Program Officer
The Australia-Indonesia Centre