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Disability results from the interaction between persons with physical, psychosocial, intellectual and/or visual and hearing impairments, and barriers of negative attitude and the environment that prevent their full and effective participation in society on an equal basis with others (Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities - CRPD).

Disability and humanitarian action: The CRPD makes specific reference to the safety and protection of women, men, girls and boys with disabilities in conflict and emergency situations (article 11). They face disproportionate risks in disaster situations and are often excluded from humanitarian assistance and rehabilitation processes. Such exclusion makes it hard to access assistance and services provided in emergencies. Importantly, persons with disabilities are a diverse population including women, men, younger and older, from different backgrounds and social origins. Their needs cannot be addressed in a ‘one size fits all’ approach.

Humanitarian responses, therefore, must take into consideration the abilities, skills, resources and knowledge of individuals with different types of disabilities.

Women, men, girls and boys with disabilities have the same basic needs as everyone else in their communities. In addition, some may have specific needs, such as replacement of assistive devices, sign language interpretation of information, counselling or mental health needs and access to rehabilitation services. Furthermore, any measures targeting persons with disabilities must not lead to their separation from their family and community networks.

An illness, acute distress or injury can develop into an impairment and disability because of its duration, chronic nature or inaccessible environment. In the context of a humanitarian crisis, an injury or other impairment might be considered a disability if it hinders a person’s access to, and participation in, humanitarian assistance. It is important to recognise not only individuals’ impairments, but also the environmental and attitudinal barriers that limit their participation.

Humanitarian aid does not automatically include persons with disabilities, as stigma and lack of understanding of the capacities of persons with disabilities are still frequent. Adopting proactive measures will improve their inclusion and participation to aid delivery. Specific attentions and measures to women and girls with disabilities may be required to provide protection and safety.

 During the context of COVID-19 lock-down, people with disabilities face heightened risks due to:

  1. Disrupted and / or rationed services: health and rehabilitation services, but also home-based personalised services, might be disrupted in humanitarian setting leading to isolation and abandonment, and cause serious health complications for persons with disabilities. 
  2. Inaccessible communication: Risk communication is essential to promote health and prevent the spread of infection and reduce stigma and stress.
  3. New barriers created: COVID-19 mitigation and prevention measures such as quarantining, physical distancing and isolation also create new challenges for people with disabilities.
  4. Increased risk of violence: people with disabilities, particularly women and girls with disabilities, are at risk of experiencing violence due to disruption of pre-existing protection mechanisms and crucial services.