The dominant paradigm of neoclassic economics has long argued that economic growth of national income determines development and improvement in wellbeing (Acemoglu, et al. 2005; Easterlin 1974). Unfortunately, current approaches have failed to improve the livelihoods or provide relief to a large portion of the population of Low and Middle Income Countries (LMICs) that are vulnerable to shocks that threaten wellbeing (Banerjee and Duflo 2011). The ‘trickle-down’ to the poor promised by neoclassical economics has hardly occurred: 2.2 billion people (15% of humanity) are living in or close to poverty and 842 million (12%) suffer from chronic hunger, 1.5 billion people live in countries affected by conflict (United Nations Development Programme 2014). Vulnerable people (women alone with children, migrants, indigenous and minority ethnic and religious groups, refugees, persons with disabilities, etc.) are at the lower end of the inequity spectrum. Among these, persons with disabilities are particularly at risk of poverty, as demonstrated by a small but growing body of evidence (Mitra, et al. 2013; World Health Organization and World Bank 2011). It is estimated that more than one billion people have a disability, 80% of whom live in LMICs and nearly 200 million experience considerable difficulties in functioning (World Bank and World Health Organisation 2011).

The human development paradigm is centered on concerns of human dignity and respect of human rights; people are thus considered as both means and ends of development (Ul Haq 1992). The associated Capability Approach, through its focus on enhancing individual freedoms, provides a new impetus to focus development programs and policies on equality of opportunities and empowerment (Sen 1982; Sen 1992). To date the body of research that comprehensively unpacks the complexity of disability using the Capability Approach remains extremely limited (Burchardt 2004; Mitra 2006; Palmer 2011; Terzi 2003; Terzi 2005).

The research projects of Jean-Francois Trani and colleagues was developed across 17 countries around the world (see map) since 1994. The research team focuses in designing and conducting large-scale population-based surveys supplemented by focus group discussions and qualitative, in-depth interviews particularly in challenging environments such as conflict or post-conflict countries. Most of the research projects uses a Capability Approach perspective, and are listed here:

Girl asked to use faces to decide where she stands on a Likert scale. Darfur, Sudan, 2008
  • National disability survey in Afghanistan (NDSA)  focusing on education, employment, livelihoods, social exclusion for persons with disabilities. Collaboration with the NGO Handicap International, the Afghan Ministry of Martyrs and Disabled, the Ministry of Public Health and the Central Statistics Office in 2004-2006 (random sampling of 5350 household 2696 respondents in all 34 provinces of the country)
  • Vulnerable children survey in Darfur (Sudan)  Population survey of children with disabilities in focusing on access to school, poverty and social exclusion. Partnership with Intersos (NGO) and UNICEF  in 2008-2009 (11000 households, 2500 respondents)
  • Livelihoods survey of adults with disabilities in Sierra Leone: focusing on access to services, livelihoods and social exclusion in collaboration with Leonard Cheshire International (NGO) in 2009 (425 households, 424 respondents)
  • Impact evaluation study of a Community Based Rehabilitation program in India (Karnataka State): focusing on access to education and healthcare, wellbeing and social inclusion of people with disabilities. Collaboration between Amici Italiani di Raoul Follereau (NGO) and the University of Florence in 2009-2010 (2540 participants and controls)
  • Interview for the Rehabilitation of Afghans with Disabilities Community Based Rehabilitation Impact evaluation study
  • A study of Disabled women’s attendance at community women’s groups in rural areas with the Institute for Global Health, University College London (UCL), and MIRA Nepal in 2010-2011 (3930 women with disabilities interviewed)
  • Community survey on stigma, social exclusion and poverty of persons with mental illness in India (New Delhi), with Dr Ram Manohar Lohia Hospital, Department of Psychiatry and University College London Division of Psychiatry in 2011-2012 (1294 cases and controls)
  • Impact evaluation of the Rehabilitation of Afghans with Disabilities Community Based Rehabilitation  (CBR) program run by the Swedish Committee for Afghanistan, focusing on access to services, wellbeing and social inclusion of the people with disabilities in 2012-2015 (2994 participants and controls)
  • Community survey of disability, poverty and inequalities inMorocco and Tunisia with Handicap International in 2014, the Association for the Promotion of the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in Morocco and the Tunisian Organization of Defense of the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (5728 households and 2509 cases and controls)
  • Evaluation of a multi-sectoral intervention (education, hygiene, water and sanitation) to improve wellbeing and protection in internal displaced people settlements Somalia (Baidoa):, with Intersos in 2014-2015 (591 households)