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Our purpose is clear: to empower the humanitarian community to improve humanitarian response. We make this happen by supporting and championing the outcomes of robust research and proven innovations.
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Why are we focusing on the inclusion of people with disabilities and older people?

The fundamental humanitarian principles of humanity and impartiality require that humanitarian actors include all people affected by crisis in their response activities. Yet we know that some people are systematically excluded. This includes people with disabilities and older people.

Although data on disability is not comprehensive, global estimates suggest 15% of people in a given population will have a disability or disabilities. In humanitarian settings, this proportion can be substantially higher. Indications from data collected using the Washington Group Questions in Syria, for example, show that up to 26% of the population has a disability.

Additionally, the world is experiencing significant ageing. Almost 1 in 10 people are over 60 years old.

It is expected that by 2050, more than 80% of the world’s older people will live in developing countries – compared with 60% today.

Barriers to inclusion

People with disabilities and older people can face a range of barriers when it comes to inclusion in humanitarian response.

This includes barriers to accessing services, and to meaningfully participating in needs assessments, programme design, implementation and evaluation. Barriers arise due to a range of factors, including lack of accessible information, limited opportunities to provide feedback, a lack of training and capacity of humanitarian practitioners, un-standardised approaches to data collection and an overall lack of resources allocated to inclusive action.

In recent years, the humanitarian community has made some progress towards the inclusion of people with disabilities and older people. For example, through the development of the Humanitarian Inclusion Standards (HIS), which were published as a companion to the Sphere Handbook.

The HIS were designed to address a gap in understanding around inclusion in humanitarian action. They promote a rights-based approach that covers three main components of inclusion:

  1. data and information management,
  2. addressing barriers to inclusion,
  3. participation of older people and people with disabilities, and strengthening of their capacities.
Daw in Myanmar has visual and hearing impairments. Photo Credit: U Myo Thame/HelpAge International

Our strategy

Our strategy includes a commitment to the inclusion of marginalised and excluded population groups within humanitarian response. As part of this commitment, the HIF has developed a new focus area on the inclusion of people with disabilities and older people.

Older people and people with disabilities are diverse and have diverse lived experiences. Older age and disability also intersect with each other, and we think that this intersection warrants further exploration and understanding in order to improve inclusion outcomes for a wide range of people.

This focus area will explore the barriers to and support opportunities for the inclusion of older people and people with disabilities in humanitarian response. We believe humanitarian innovation has much to contribute to this agenda and to generating a more effective and inclusive humanitarian response.

What we do

  1. We are collaborating with the right people, particularly through our Technical Working Group, to design innovation challenges that tackle the most pressing problems and respond to real areas of need.
  2. We are leading a robust Gap Analysis exercise to help identify the evidence gaps, priorities and opportunities for innovation and research to enable the inclusion of older people and people with disabilities in humanitarian response.
  3. We are taking a flexible, ethical and collaborative approach as a funder. We know that good research and innovation takes time and we will support our projects on the inclusion of people with disabilities and older people to continually assess their work and pivot if needed to get the best results.
  4. We are advocating for and endorsing a rights-based approach to inclusion, that builds on best practice in legal frameworks and guidance, and builds meaningful and mutually beneficial partnerships with Organisation for Persons with Disabilities (OPDs) and Older People’s Associations (OPAs).

What next?

We want to see a humanitarian system that upholds the rights of people with disabilities and older people, and recognises their capacities and views.

We want to see a humanitarian system where inclusion is recognised as the responsibility of all actors, not just specialist agencies.

This means that we must continually consult, learn and iterate in what we do, which is a core principle of innovation. It means actively seeking out consultation with people with disabilities and older people. And it means recognising that Organisations for Persons with Disabilities (OPDs) and Older People’s Associations can be at the forefront of inclusive action during a humanitarian crisis.

Overall, improving our understanding of the barriers to inclusion for people with disabilities and older people in humanitarian response means we can better uphold the principles of humanity and impartiality, and we can improve outcomes for all individuals affected by crises.

In Leogane, Haiti, two volunteers speaking with a man as part of a project on accountability to communities affected by crisis. Photo Credit: Haitian National Red Cross Society

Useful Resources

Tools & Research for the Inclusion of People with Disability and Older People

Report Gender-based Violence, Inclusion of People with Disabilities and Older People

Rapid review of disability and older age inclusion in GBV

Report COVID-19, Inclusion of People with Disabilities and Older People, Water, sanitation & hygiene

Rapid review of disability and older age inclusion in WASH

Report Disease (Communicable & Non-communicable), Ebola, Evidence Review, Health Systems & Services, Injury & Rehabilitation, Maternal and Child Health, Mental Health and Psychosocial Support, Nutrition, Sexual and Reproductive Health

The Humanitarian Health Evidence Review

Our Innovation Projects for the Inclusion of People with Disability and Older People

Sophie Van Eetvelt

Innovation Manager, Elrha

There is a lot of progress to be made before we see a fully inclusive humanitarian response. But, increasingly, the rights and capacities of people with disabilities and older people are being recognised by a wide range of humanitarian actors – not just the specialist agencies. There is a huge demand for innovation to help tackle barriers to inclusion, and lots of organisations doing great work around advocacy and implementation. Innovation takes many forms in this area; from improving assessment tools to better-recognise the perspectives of women with disabilities in Syria, to rapidly deployable accessible latrine slabs in Mozambique and novel community-led programmes to tackle stigma and prejudice around older age and disability. I am thrilled to be working in this area with Elrha and incredibly excited to see what innovation we support over the coming years. Please get in touch if you’d like to be involved or learn more.

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