From Dream to Reality


The Institute on Disability and Public Policy for the ASEAN Region was a result of several dialogues in accordance with the ASEAN Vision 2020, which was adopted by ASEAN leaders on the 30th Anniversary of the founding of ASEAN. The ASEAN Vision 2020 states that ASEAN will:

  • Enhance human resource development in all sectors of the economy through quality education, upgrading of skills and capabilities and training...[and]

  • All people enjoy equitable access to opportunities for total human development and where the civil society is empowered and gives special attention to the disadvantaged, disabled and marginalized and where social justice and the rule of law reign..

Through discussions, it was acknowledged that persons with disabilities have not had access to postsecondary education, a major vehicle for the attainment of social and economic mobility. This is particularly true in the field of public policy studies. As a result, persons with disabilities have not been able to acquire the academic credentials to participate as full partners in the construction of policies that significantly influence their lives. The discussions consequently led to a partnership that would develop a proposed institute to address such concerns. Such an Institute would be established in full partnership with the ASEAN Secretariat and within the context of The Nippon Foundation—ASEAN Strategic Partnership Agreement, for the purpose of improving the circumstances of persons with disabilities in ASEAN countries.

Needs Identified

Three main needs were identified regarding the formation of an Institute on Disability and Public Policy for the ASEAN Region:

There is a need to provide opportunities for individuals with disabilities to develop their leadership potential in regard to public policy through graduate education in public policy in the ASEAN region.

  • Technical assistance and support is needed in order for students with disabilities in upper secondary, colleges and universities, and the work environment by providing access to a social and support network not currently available to them.

  • There is a pressing need to study and foster public policy as it relates to persons with disabilities that are consistent with the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

Rationale of the Institute

It was determined that the Institute on Disability and Public Policy for the ASEAN Region will:

  • Serve as a valuable resource to governments as they construct and revise public policy regarding persons with disabilities.

  • Promote improvement of leadership for persons with disabilities in public policy through graduate education, seminars, and workshops.

  • Provide a state-of-the-art laboratory for research, development, and deployment of technical assistance and educational support services for students in ASEAN countries who live with disabilities and are enrolled in postsecondary institutions.

Project Outline

It was deemed that the Institute on Disability and Public Policy for the ASEAN Region will provide graduate education programs, support services, research, and policy development by/for/with persons with disabilities. The institute will use information and communication technologies (ICTs) as one platform for delivering programs, products, and services. ICTs can allow persons with disabilities to participate without the constraints of time of day or location. The institute will be composed of various programs by/for/with people with disabilities. All undertakings of the institute will focus on:

Serving governments as a resource regarding fostering the full participation in society by those with disabilites in the ASEAN region

  • Conducting research regarding how persons with disabilities can become active and productive members in ASEAN societies

  • Developing ASEAN public policy leaders with disabilities

  • Providing technical assistance and support services to students in higher education programs in ASEAN countries

  • Providing related scholarships

  • Preparing selected students with disabilities to enter the graduate program(s) offered by the institute.

By employing cyberinfrastructure and distance learning technologies, the institute will reach students incapable of travel, students with financial difficulties, students living in remote areas, and students living in all ASEAN countries. The institute will serve students with disabilities in ASEAN countries, and their non-disabled peers who are interested in pursuing disability policy. The primary language of the institute will be English. Academic programming will be designed and determined by universities or institutions active at the forefront of relevant fields. The Nippon Foundation expects that the institute will seek to employ highly qualified persons with disabilities. Further, persons with disabilities will be full partners in the design, development, and establishment of the institute. In addition, highly reputable universities with expertise in disability and public policy will be engaged in discussions regarding curriculum, research, and accreditation for all programs of the institute.

An advisory committee of experts named 'The Dream Team' and composed of persons with disabilities; disability experts; university professors; and ICT specialists was formed to provide advice and counsel as the institute was developed and implemented. Initially, members were selected from the corporate, educational, government, and technical sectors of society to ensure that the institute's design meets the prevailing and future technical, educational, and work-place needs of the ASEAN region.


To fully realize the implementation of the institute, it was necessary to construct a development plan that included tasks, timelines, and responsibilities. In doing so, there were five basic considerations that were kept in the forefront at all times:

  • Relevance of the institute and its work

  • Effectiveness in addressing the institute’s vision and mission

  • Efficiency in addressing the institute’s vision and mission

  • Sustainability of the institute

  • Impact of expected outcomes of the institute

A project core team reporting to the Executive Director of The Nippon Foundation Mr. Shuichi Ohno led this development effort. The team was chaired by Mr. Akiie Ninomiya and included Dr. James DeCaro and Dr. Larry Campbell. Mr. William Clymer served as executive staffer to the core team. The estimated start-up time for the institute was approximately two years. During this period, the Dream Team advised the core team regarding the design of the institute and the potential application of the ICTs required to assure full access to persons with disabilities.

Meetings and Results

In August 2009, The Nippon Foundation convened a team of experts in Bangkok, Thailand to discuss the establishment of an institute. Referred by then-Dean of American University's School of International Service, Dr. Derrick Cogburn was invited to this focus group. Two days of meetings yielded the following important recommendations for consideration as the institute is developed:

  • Evaluate all elements of the structure, design, and plan of action for this project with regard to the degree to which they facilitate achievement of the primary project goal of developing future leaders in public policy who themselves have a disability. Propose a research agenda in the early planning for the institute that reflects support of public policy that will facilitate inclusion of persons with disabilities.

  • Prioritize development of a student-driven social network within the action plan as an immediate and foundational project goal.

  • Continue to engage in discussions surrounding which UN CRPD goals are difficult for various countries. Develop strategies to facilitate participation to the greatest degree possible among all ASEAN partners while at the same time acknowledging that participation will vary depending on the resources of each country.

  • Create and distinguish between short- and long-term goals. In particular, be cautious in setting short-term goals that may impede later efforts to implement long-term goals and the sustainability of the project; i.e. starting with a small MPA cohort that is not representative of the target student profile will require diligent effort to ensure that future cohorts are more representative.

  • Devote significant time, resources, and effort in the planning stages identifying which collaborative partnerships are both essential and feasible; to the degree possible, establish these partnerships prior to implementation of a plan, since they will be the backbone of the institute.

  • In recognition of the diverse ways in which key project terms and concepts can be interpreted, create a broad definition of each term and ask team members from ASEAN partners to review and note differences. From this, an institute “glossary” can be created that will serve as a reference for all. This will also be a helpful tool for identifying controversial areas that may need extra attention as the project moves forward.

  • Evaluate all project initiatives with regard to the likelihood that they will both facilitate project success and the ability of the institute to become self-sustaining once funding ends.

After this initial focus group, Dr. Derrick Cogburn was invited to join the IDPP Core Team.
Subsequent meetings included: 

  • December 2009: The IDPP Core Team meets at American University

  • April 2010: The First Virtual Core Team Meeting

  • August 2010: The Core Team and The Dream Team meet in the ASEAN region to discuss the research findings for the proposed IDPP


On 4 April 2011, the Institute on Disability and Public Policy for the ASEAN Region formally launched at a signing ceremony hosted by Mahidol University in Bangkok, Thailand. The IDPP launched in collaboration with Mahidol University; Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy at National University of Singapore; School of International Service at American University; and National Technical Institute for the Deaf at Rochester Institute of Technology. The IDPP is supported by COTELCO at American University; Asia-Pacific Development Center on Disability; and International Council for Education of People with Visual Impairment.