Ever since I started my internship with European Disability Forum (EDF) I have been catching myself walking around and noticing a lot that I did not notice before. I look at buildings, exits, stores, etc and I notice that they are not accessible to all people. I have begun to educate myself about what a more inclusive world would and should look like. I have hopes that one day this world will fully respect the rights of persons with disabilities. I want people who are disabled to be included and heard in all that happens in everyday life. Working with EDF has taught me so much and has truly opened my eyes on disability inclusion. Some highlights from this time include:
● How important it is to engage in discussions with Disabled People’s Organisations (DPOs) to ensure that they are included in conversations:
I had the pleasure of meeting (online) with DPO colleagues in Bangladesh and Kenya regarding the Innovation to Inclusion (i2i) project. It is important to know what methods and tools have been beneficial to DPOs in this project so, to support work on a learning document, we discussed creating a Facebook group to allow people with disabilities from both countries to engage and discuss together. I did research prior to this meeting to create suitable strategies and guidelines for the group; I knew something was missing but could not figure out what it was or how to fix it. It was not until the meeting that it clicked that I had created guidelines so general that I hadn’t included some specifics that were highlighted by the DPOs. These included the importance of privacy, who should be involved, why, who should moderate discussions, and how questions should be accessible. I realised it was important that rather than just starting out the Facebook group we took the time to first discuss with DPOs how they would like this to be conducted and how they should be involved. It made me think, how will we truly know what people with disabilities need without asking them first? It is not acceptable to assume; it is always best to ask. This is one of the most important lessons I have learned.
● Learning about humanitarian action, Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) and climate change/ climate action through the desk-based review that I have been conducting to create a library of resources on these important topics:
When I conducted my searches for these topics I found the research by searching for keywords such as disability, global, Europe, Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR), climate change, climate action, climate justice, humanitarian, project, DPO, NGO, international, inclusion, etc. I also limited my sources so that they were within the last five years. I wanted to make sure all the information I was getting was the most up-to-date as possible.
When looking at DRR I looked at all the ongoing work that is currently taking place to build the resilience of societies and how inclusive it is of persons with disabilities. I wanted to understand how disasters affect persons with disabilities and what is being done to alleviate this. Looking into research to understand if the cities that are being built are disaster-resilient but at the same time accessible to everyone. In terms of‘ humanitarian’, I learned that it basically means saving lives and reducing human suffering. The research on climate change was limited (by lack of information), yet this is such an important topic; how are persons with disabilities impacted by climate change and how are we making sure that climate action is being implemented in ways that do not infringe on people’s rights?
Why is disability inclusion important during humanitarian action? People with disabilities are more likely to face violence or be exploited during these situations. People with disabilities also should be among the first to evacuate because they are among the most at risk. There are also barriers that people with disabilities face and many of these are not noticeable to the general public. There may be physical barriers that persons with disabilities may face that must be addressed prior to an earthquake, flood, etc. so that an escape plan is put in place. A less visible barrier could be inaccessible information; persons with disabilities (like everyone else) need to be informed at all stages of a natural disaster so that they know what to expect and when.
When environmental justice is talked about, persons with disabilities are rarely included in these discussions. Climate change is an important issue because it disproportionately affects people with disabilities (UNEP). Not only should persons with disabilities be included in discussions in policy but also in implementing the new policies within communities.
I also thought about how, in DRR, there are many places in the process where people with disabilities could be included. Once a disaster happens, cities need to be rebuilt and what often happens is that these new buildings don’t take into account what persons with disabilities need. To build back better (BBB) also means building back more inclusively. Everyone in the community should be made aware of the rights and skills of persons with disabilities in preparing for and responding to disasters. We need to have the input of persons with disabilities to build resilience, designing accessible buildings, roads, evacuation sites, and schools.
● Challenges women with disabilities face
Women with disabilities are at a higher risk of Gender-Based Violence (GBV), and this risk is further exacerbated in crisis situations. They may be out of reach or excluded from the community, are less likely to get the information that they need (to be informed of what is going on), and are less likely to be included when decisions are made. Women are also more likely to be exposed to risks caused by climate change.
The intersectionality of being a woman and having a disability leads to other elevated risks. For example, food insecurity is also a heightened risk for women with disabilities because women are often heads of households, and not only have to worry about feeding themselves but also their children and generating income at the same time. In short, risks are greatly increased if a person faces barriers related to disability, gender, and poverty together.
There is so much to unpack and so much work that needs to be done to ensure the protection and rights of women who have disabilities, to ensure they get the resources that they need, and to remove all barriers in a way that is fully gendered sensitive.
Due to COVID-19, all of my work during the internship was conducted online. I would have loved to go to Brussels to meet all my colleagues and discuss these important issues with the DPOs in person. In my future job, I will keep what I have learned in mind about inclusion and all the barriers that persons with disabilities face. I will never stop noticing my surroundings and what can be done to make sure persons with disabilities can participate equally in everyday life.
Written by Jenny Espinal