The ‘World Report on Disability’ describes disability as “complex, dynamic, multidimensional and contested” (WHO & World Bank, 2011, p. 3) suggesting that there is no unique definition of people/children with disabilities. The Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD) ( Art.1) states:

“Persons with disabilities include those who have long-term physical, mental, intellectual or sensory impairments which in interaction with various barriers may hinder their full and effective participation in society on an equal basis with others”.

Data on persons with disabilities are very limited, and vary widely depending on the different dimensions of impairment. The World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates that 15.3% of the world’s population, including 93 million children under the age of 14, have moderate or severe disabilities (WHO & World Bank, 2011).

Over 10 million displaced persons suffer from a form of disability (UNHCR, 2019). Considering that out of the estimated displaced population, half are children (UNICEF, 2016), it is reasonable to argue that displaced children with disabilities constitute a sizeable group of individuals.

Displacement settings are more likely to heighten risk factors and
are therefore more ‘disabling’. As the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD) highlights, it is in fact the inability to accommodate and assist that turns impairment into disability (UNESCO, 2019). Despite being among the most marginalized, children and youths with disabilities living in communities affected by crisis or conflict are often excluded from humanitarian support (UNICEF, 2017).

Humanitarian actors generally fail to address the needs of children with disabilities because:

  • Recruitment of children and adolescents is often done through schools, temporary learning spaces and child-friendly spaces, from which those with disabilities may be excluded;

  • Children with disabilities may be isolated and hidden within their communities due to stigma, preventing the child’s access to humanitarian assistance;

  • Lack of knowledge and assumptions that children with disabilities require specific programming may reduce opportunities for inclusion.

Although research on disability within crisis-affected communities is limited, examples of good practice demonstrate that it is possible to design appropriate strategies to improve inclusion if high-quality data are collected. This also applies to designing inclusive built interventions.

Inclusion encompasses the establishment of a series of measures to ensure the removal of barriers which prevent persons with disabilities from accessing services and participating in society. UNHCR’s report: ‘Working with persons with disabilities in forced displacement’ is clear on this:

“barriers can be related to policy and law, the physical environment, communication, and social and cultural beliefs. Barriers can manifest in legal frameworks and norms; institutional policies, standard operating procedures and budgets; and in attitudes and behaviour. […] it is the service providers’ responsibility to design services to be usable by all people, to the greatest extent possible, and, where persons with disabilities are not accessing or participating in activities addressed to the whole population, make changes to programming to create the same opportunity for persons with disabilities to participate in and benefit from these activities” (UNHCR, 2019, p. 9).

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