Plenary: Inclusion for People with Disabilities

Session Summary

The second plenary session underscored the importance of people with disabilities not being on the fringes, but rather at the center of recovery and reconstruction programs. There is a strong need for a more nuanced, disaggregated, and localized approach to the specific needs of people with diverse disabilities. The successful experiences of Bangladesh and Ecuador showed how tremendous impact has been achieved because of governmental intervention working hand-in-hand with rigorous follow-up on the part of local organizations and the community in situations of disaster to evacuate people with disabilities. It is also vital to ensure that their livelihoods as well as their assets are secured when they move to the evacuation center, which can be one of the biggest impediments to evacuation. Several countries have the guidelines and frameworks, but enforcement and implementation continue to remain a distant dream.
One of the primary reasons for the exclusion of people with disabilities in disaster preparedness, recovery and reconstruction is the lack of prioritization due to institutional path dependencies that keep the focus on finding efficiencies that will move a lot of food or cash to a broad target group.

People with disabilities have a diverse range of vulnerabilities, which makes it difficult to target them in the same way. This signals the amount of granularity that the system can deal with. The second challenge is that disabled people’s organizations are generally small and local, and the system is not configured to support a large number of small local partners. Governments need to reconfigure their understanding of localization in order to find a way to shift resources to disabled people's organizations.

Inclusive early warning signals need to be disseminated through various messaging tools such as flags, hand microphone, community radio, and other media, which can be interpreted using sign language. The scale of preparation is also important – in Bangladesh, four million volunteers have been trained to evacuate people with disabilities. Cyclone shelters and other facilities need to be accessible to people with disabilities. During Cyclone Fani, 1.6 million people, including 100,000 with disabilities, were evacuated within eight hours. Volunteers, citizen committees, central and local government organizations, and NGOs who work on post-disaster recovery and reconstruction need to be trained to be sensitive to the needs of people with disabilities.

The session also underlined that governments need to offer sufficient and dignified support to people with disabilities so their rights, benefits, and the assistance enshrined in the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) are honored. Modern geo-reference-based databases that are continuously updated need to be developed in all countries to understand the location, specific needs and unique vulnerabilities of people with disabilities.