Published on Sustainable Cities

Integrating disability inclusion in disaster risk management: the whys and hows

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Man in wheelchair in city square with other residents, apartment building Man in wheelchair in city square with other residents, apartment building

How many persons with disabilities have you worked with? How often have persons with disabilities led or participated in decision-making processes and discussions that you were a part of?  Does your definition of disability go beyond visible impairments to include the diverse ways disability may be experienced, including cognitively or psychosocially?

With 1 billion, or 15% of the world’s population, experiencing a form of disability, and 80% of whom living in low- and middle-income countries (LMIC), we must ask these questions for inclusive development.

LMIC are increasingly vulnerable to the impacts of natural hazards exacerbated by climate change - and persons with disabilities are disproportionately impacted in poorer regions . Therefore, it is crucial that persons with disabilities be accounted for in disaster risk management (DRM) activities. International conventions, like the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction 2015-2030, provide robust support for disability inclusionyet translating those commitments into practice needs work.

Why Disability Inclusion?

1. Maximize Benefits for All

Disability-inclusive interventions can positively impact society at large. Universal Design illustrates how disability-inclusive DRM programs improve the lives of many, in addition to persons with disabilities.  Several World Bank DRM projects, including evacuation shelter construction in Bangladesh and India, have incorporated certain Universal Design standards that have benefited children, pregnant women and older persons by creating easier-to-access entries. Another project in India made schools—often used as evacuation shelters—more universally accessible by constructing clear pathways to traverse and position shelves and other furniture at appropriate heights for children.

Furthermore, disability-inclusive design is multifunctional. For a project in Romania to enhance the resilience of fire stations, it did not seem obvious why ramps and other physical support interventions were critical in a fire station, given the physical requirements of firefighters. However, fire stations are also accessed by the public and other authorities who may be differently abled. Moreover, during the project-design stage, the team raised the important point that the long-term use of public buildings is unpredictable. So, making the station universally accessible increases the longevity of its use.

2. Bring Added Value at Marginal Cost

Intentionally integrating disability-inclusive approaches saves time and money. Contrary to popular belief, the additional cost of integrating disability inclusion into DRM projects is marginal, particularly at the design stage.   Costs usually increase when disability-inclusive changes are added to a project in the later stages. This can incur more resources, time, and effort. A study found that the additional cost of including accessibility measures for a single-family dwelling at the design stage was 0.2% of the total cost, whereas retrofitting for accessibility after implementation added 6%.

How to Implement Disability Inclusive Approaches to DRM:

1.  Use Laws and International Agreements as Entry Points

International agreements and national laws can be leveraged to highlight the importance of disability inclusion with stakeholders. Some experts state that they often position disability inclusion to fulfill other international commitments in negotiations. By tying the commitments to their organization’s mandate at the start of the project, it helps to demonstrate the significance 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 participation of persons with disabilities and organizations of persons with disabilities (OPDs), such as organizing meetings in accessible places and sharing information in accessible formats.  

Iterative consultative processes allow persons with disabilities to provide feedback on the quality and effectiveness of accessibility measures throughout the project cycle, resulting in better outcomes. The Guyana National Committee on Disability (NCD) consulted on the domestic accessible design of evacuation shelters and were then re-engaged to review when the construction was completed. The NCD discovered that the shelters were not completely accessible; the kitchenette tables were not low enough for wheelchairs; the entryway ramp was too steep and the toilet area did not have adequate space for a wheelchair to move around freely. Ultimately, the shelter had to be retroactively modified to make these accommodations, which was costlier and took longer.

Additionally, the Gaibandha Model, developed by a leading humanitarian agency focused on persons with disabilities from their work in flood-affected regions in Bangladesh, demonstrates the positive impact of approaching consultations as a collaboration and opportunity for capacity-building. Some of the community-based interventions implemented include creating self-help groups for persons with disabilities, disaster-proofing livelihoods, and regionally establishing formal OPDs to advocate to local government.

3. Use Disaggregated Data on Disability

While there are challenges regarding disability-disaggregated data, as discussed in this blogpost, data can support the development of appropriate early-warning systems and response and recovery efforts. This helps to create an enabling environment for disability inclusion.  For example, using data to create social registries can assist local government officials in identifying where people with disabilities live and what their needs are. This improves preparedness measures and appropriately prioritizes response efforts, thus increasing the efficacy of DRM activities.

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

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


Yusra Uzair

Consultant - Global Facility for Disaster Reduction and Recovery (GFDRR)

Simone Balog-Way

Disaster Risk Management Analyst

Mari Koistinen

Senior Social Development Specialist

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