Disability in humanitarian context: Views from affected people and field organisations

Handicap International


This report is based on the results of a global consultation carried out in 2015 as a contribution to the World Humanitarian Summit and is intended to better identify the changes needed for a disability-inclusive humanitarian response. A total of 769 responses were collected through three online surveys. Answers were collected from 484 people with disabilities, including 400 directly impacted by a humanitarian crisis. Responses were also received from 167 humanitarian actors, including international and local non-governmental organisations and UN agencies and 118 disabled people’s organisations (DPO) in 28 countries, including 109 that worked in a crisis setting.

The report discusses these responses under three main headings: What risks do humanitarian crises pose to people with disabilities? what gaps are there in services for people with disabilities in humanitarian response? and what challenges to the different actors in humanitarian response face in providing assistance to people with disabilities?

The responses show that people with disabilities are strongly impacted when a crisis occurs: 54% of respondents with disabilities state they have experienced a direct physical impact, sometimes causing new impairments. 27% report that they have been psychologically, physically or sexually abused. Increased psychological stress and/or disorientation are other effects of the crisis for 38% of the respondents with disabilities.

This consultation also confirms that people with disabilities too often fall through the cracks of humanitarian response. Three quarters of the respondents report that they did not have adequate access to basic assistance such as water, shelter, food or health. In addition, the specific services people with disabilities may need, such as rehabilitation, assistive devices, access to social workers or interpreters were not available for one out of two respondents with disabilities, further impeding their access to mainstream assistance.

85% of humanitarian actors responding to the survey recognise that people with disabilities are more vulnerable in times of crisis and 92% estimate that these people are not properly taken into account in humanitarian response. Real efforts are being made to fill this gap as 63% of humanitarian actors state they have developed specific projects or policies. However, they still face significant challenges in making their assistance truly inclusive: insufficient consultation of people with disabilities, lack of technical expertise on disability, or financial obstacles. Finally, only 30% to 45% of the services they provide are reported as accessible to people with disabilities.

In times of crisis, DPOs report implementing a wide range of activities aimed at people with disabilities, with the main ones relating to raising awareness on the needs of people with disabilities (71%), identification of people with disabilities (62%), and initial needs assessments of people with disabilities (53%).


Handicap International. (2015). Disability in humanitarian context: Views from affected people and field organisations. Lyon: Handicap International Federation.