How many people with disabilities have you worked with? How often have people with disabilities led or participated in decision-making processes and discussions in which you have participated? Does your definition of disability go beyond visible disabilities to include the various ways in which disability can be experienced, including cognitive or psychosocial?

With 1 billion, or 15% of the world’s population, with disabilities, and 80% of which live in low and middle income countries (LMICs), we must ask ourselves these questions for inclusive development.

LMICs are increasingly vulnerable to the impacts of natural hazards exacerbated by climate change – and people with disabilities are disproportionately affected in the poorest regions. Therefore, it is crucial that people with disabilities are included in disaster risk management (DRM) activities. International conventions, such as Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction 2015-2030, provide strong support for disability inclusion, while translating these commitments in practice needs work.

Why the inclusion of disability?

1. Maximize the benefits for all

Disability inclusive interventions can have a positive impact on society as a whole. Universal Design illustrates how disability-inclusive DRM programs improve the lives of many people, in addition to people with disabilities. Several World Bank DRM projects, including the construction of evacuation shelters in Bangladesh and India, incorporated some universal design standards that have benefited children, pregnant women and the elderly by creating more easily accessible entrances. Another project in India made schools, often used as evacuation shelters, more universally accessible by building clear paths through and positioning shelves and other furniture at heights appropriate for children.

In addition, the design incorporating disability is multifunctional. For a project in Romania To improve the resilience of fire stations, it did not seem clear why handrails and other physical support interventions were essential in a fire station, given the physical demands of firefighters. However, fire stations are also accessible to the public and other authorities who may have different capacities. In addition, during the design phase of the project, the team raised the important point that the long-term use of public buildings is unpredictable. Thus, making the station accessible to everyone increases the longevity of its use.

2. Bring added value at marginal cost

The intentional integration of inclusive approaches to disability saves time and money. Contrary to popular belief, the additional cost associated with mainstreaming disability inclusion in DRM projects is marginal, especially at the design stage. Costs typically increase when changes including disability are added to a project in later stages. It may require more resources, time and effort. One study found that the additional cost of including accessibility measures for a single-family home at the design stage was 0.2% of the total cost, while retrofitting for accessibility after implementation was added 6%.

How to implement disability inclusive approaches to DRM:

1. Use international laws and agreements as entry points

International agreements and national laws can be used to emphasize the importance of disability inclusion to stakeholders. Some experts say they often position disability inclusion to fulfill other international commitments in negotiations. By linking commitments to their organization’s mandate at the start of the project, it helps demonstrate the importance of disability inclusion and encourages stakeholders to prioritize inclusive approaches to DRM.

2. Leverage inclusive consultative processes

First, the consultation itself must be inclusive for the participation of people with disabilities and organizations of people with disabilities (DPOs), such as organizing meetings in accessible places and sharing information in accessible formats.

Iterative consultative processes allow people with disabilities to provide feedback on the quality and effectiveness of accessibility measures throughout the project cycle, leading to better results. The Guyanese National Committee on Disability (NCD) consulted on the accessible domestic design of the evacuation shelters and were then rehired for review once construction was completed. The NCD discovered that the shelters were not fully accessible; the tables in the kitchenette were not low enough for wheelchairs; the entrance ramp was too steep and the washroom area did not have enough space for a wheelchair to move around freely. In the end, the refuge had to be retroactively modified to make these accommodations, which was more expensive and longer.

In addition, the Gaibandha model, developed by a leader humanitarian agency focused on people with disabilities of their work in flood-affected areas in Bangladesh, demonstrates the positive impact of the consultation approach as a collaboration and an opportunity for capacity building. Some of the community interventions implemented include the creation of self-help groups for people with disabilities, disaster-proof livelihoods, and the establishment of formal regional DPOs to advocate with local government.

3. Use disaggregated data on disability

Although there are challenges with disaggregated data by disability, as discussed in this blog post, data can support the development of early warning systems and appropriate response and recovery efforts. This helps to create an environment conducive to the inclusion of disability. For example, using data to create social registers can help local authorities identify where people with disabilities live and what their needs are. This improves preparedness measures and appropriately prioritizes response efforts, thereby increasing the effectiveness of GRC activities.

Much work remains to be done. But through collaboration and the development of good practices to create an enabling environment for disability inclusion in DRM, it is hoped that resilient and inclusive development will leave no one behind.

This research was supported by the Global Facility for Disaster Reduction and Recovery (GFDRR). To learn more, visit our website.