People with disabilities must be included in crises responses

Ten years on from the Indian Ocean Tsunami, the needs and rights of people with disabilities in emergencies continue to be overlooked

2014 marks the ten year anniversary of the Indian Ocean tsunami which took place on Boxing Day.  At the time, poor data, knowledge and understanding of people with disabilities living in affected areas meant that their needs were not recognised in emergency relief efforts.  As a result their access to shelter and essential goods and services was severely limited.

International outcry that people with disabilities were left behind or simply forgotten in the wake of this tragic disaster, and others such as Hurricane Katrina, led to the inclusion of Article 11 in the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities  (UNCRPD).  The article mandates that emergency relief efforts take the specific needs of disabled people into account.  Yet a decade on, in the midst of the Syrian war and the Ebola crisis, how much has really changed for people with disabilities?

New analysis from the Institute of Development Studies (IDS) and the Leonard Cheshire Disability and Inclusive Development Centre suggests that there is still some way to go in achieving inclusive humanitarian programming. In Ebola-affected countries, accessible information in sign language and Braille is rare, and people with impaired mobility have been left increasingly isolated, dependent on already overstretched medical staff and visitors.

Technology has been highlighted as a way to ensure the need and rights of disabled people are recognised in crisis response. The ‘promise of technology’ is a focus for this year’s UN International Day of Persons with Disabilities.  The benefits are clear but risks are also evident.  Technology cannot provide all the answers.  There are access problems and where data does improve it will not solve problems of social stigma.

2015 represents a critical opportunity. The needs and rights of people with disabilities must be embedded into the targets and indicators that will comprise the international Hyogo Framework for Action and Sustainable Development Goals Framework which are currently being negotiated and due to be agreed next year.

People with disabilities and Disabled People’s Organisations (DPOs) need to be included from the outset in the design and implementation of humanitarian programmes and emergency relief efforts. Their unique expertise and understanding must inform policymaking and programming decisions.  Donors such as the UK’s Department for International Development (DFID) and the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) are supporting development policies on disability inclusion.

Yet this support still needs to translate into more concrete action on the ground.  Broader incentives and rewards are required to ensure more inclusive humanitarian programming.  Moreover, training packages that raise awareness, skills and competencies on disability inclusion for humanitarian practitioners, policymakers and donors can help make sure that they reach out to the most marginalised, and often invisible, adults and children with disabilities and enable them to fully participate in response planning initiatives.

Without this critical step change in behaviour the needs and rights of people with disabilities will continue to be overlooked, leaving them excluded and vulnerable in an increasingly shock prone world.

By Kelly Shephard, Head of Open Knowledge and Digital Services at IDS 

This blog is highlighting the IDS Rapid Response Briefing: Including people with disabilities in emergency relief efforts, by P Oosterhoff and M Kett

If you found this blog interesting, you may find the HEART Topic Guide on Inclusive Education useful. Download it here.

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