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Five ways to strengthen disability inclusion in humanitarian response

The 3rd of December marks International Day of Persons with Disabilities (IDPD), a day for global recognition of the rights and well-being of persons with disabilities in all spheres of society.

IDPD serves as a day for humanitarian actors to reflect on the need for a greater emphasis on inclusion in all aspects of policy and programming.

Understanding and empowering persons with disabilities starts with the recognition that society is composed of persons who have a wide range of abilities. Central to this notion is the idea that disability is caused not by medical impairment, but rather by the societal structures in place that do not accommodate varied abilities.

Jordon Steele-John, a champion for persons with a disability and Australia’s newest Senator, explained this concept and highlighted the need for a fundamental change to the way that society thinks about persons with disabilities.

“We must now recognise that disability is not created as the result of various medical impairments – but is in fact created by society’s collective failure to adapt to, and embrace, and celebrate, the varying levels of ability which we all have.”

This year, the principal theme of IDPD is transformation towards sustainable and resilient society for all. This draws on a core principle of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development to leave no one behind, which featured heavily at the World Humanitarian Summit (WHS) in 2016.

WHS recognised that persons with disabilities face entrenched discrimination, such that they are disproportionately affected by humanitarian crises. The Charter on Inclusion of Persons with Disabilities in Humanitarian Action was endorsed at the WHS, urging government representatives as well as leaders of non-governmental organisations and funding bodies to ensure that their future humanitarian actions will be inclusive of persons with disabilities.

In a time of a humanitarian crisis, the inequalities that persons with disabilities experience are exacerbated. Persons with disabilities can often experience increased barriers when accessing services including healthcare and food, experience loss of assistive devices, and often lack representation in key decision-making. Emergencies, including conflict and natural disasters, can also lead to an increased number of persons with both temporary and permanent disabilities resulting from trauma and injury, inadequate medical care, and a lack of support services.

Evaluations and reviews conducted over recent years have found that disability inclusion in humanitarian action can be strengthened.

Here are 5 ways to think about how to improve disability inclusion in humanitarian contexts:

1.Engage with disabled people’s organisations (DPOs) during all stages of the program cycle.

DPOs are rarely involved in humanitarian programming. In a humanitarian crisis, DPOs are able to implement activities targeted towards persons with disabilities, advocate for persons with disabilities, and undertake activities to reach persons with disabilities.

2. Use analysis undertaken in the proposal and initial stage of the disaster to inform programming.

Recent research undertaken by Humanitarian Advisory Group highlighted that there is a gap between valuable information being obtained through analysis and how this information informs disability inclusiveness in programming to ensure it is disability inclusive. It is crucial to consider how disability can impact men, women, boys and girls in different ways. Therefore it is important to use analysis of their needs and requirements to inform programs.

3. Implement a twin track approach to disability inclusion.

Disability inclusion is most effective when programming adopts a twin-track approach that covers: a) targeted disability specific programming; and b) disability mainstreaming in humanitarian programs to ensure inclusion of persons with disabilities.

4. A range of disabilities, including intellectual, mental and physical disabilities should be considered in program design.

There is often a focus on developing physically accessible infrastructure, such as ensuring buildings have ramp access, in reducing barriers to services. However, the needs of persons with non-visible disabilities must be considered with both targeted and mainstreamed activities.

5. Systematically engage with persons with disabilities.  

The valuable contribution of persons with disabilities to their communities’ responses to crises is often unrecognised. Persons with disabilities can, and should, participate in the key decisions and conversations that impact their lives.

What’s already being done in this space

Significant work has been done to advance the inclusion of persons with disabilities in humanitarian response. Check out some of the great organisations and resources for this space.

CBM Australia is an international Christian development organisation committed to improving the quality of life of persons with disabilities in poor communities around the world. CBM produced a Inclusive Humanitarian Action – Briefing paper, outlining key areas to guide stakeholders towards fully inclusive humanitarian action as an integral part of the new global agenda.

Handicap International is an independent and impartial aid organisation working in situations of poverty and exclusion, conflict and disaster. Handicap International work alongside persons with disabilities in order to raise their voice, responding to their essential needs and improve their living conditions.

The Minimum Standards for Age and Disability Inclusion in Humanitarian Action have been developed for all actors involved in humanitarian action to use for the inclusion of persons with disabilities and older people at every stage of the response.

Get involved in the conversation today using the hashtags: #IncludeUs #IDPD

Image: Nelly, the National Coordinator of Vanuatu Disability Promotion and Advocacy Association: “I lead, I advocate, I won’t let you stop us!”  © Erin Johnson/ CBM Australia