Children with difficulties walking, seeing, hearing, communicating and/or remembering are particularly vulnerable to being abandoned, neglected and exploited during emergencies, and are rarely considered in humanitarian assessments and responses. Whereas children are commonly excluded from participating in decisions and forums that have an impact on their lives, children with disabilities face an added degree of exclusion because they are often invisible and forgotten. In addition, communication and physical barriers often prevent organisation staff or volunteers from effectively interacting with children with disability.
To read about support for children with disabilities in action, click the picture below:
When should we use a programme to support children with disabilities?
- All programmes should be designed to include and promote access and participation of children with disabilities
- In the early stages of an emergency children with disabilities are especially vulnerable to risks from physical dangers and injuries, and may be more easily separated from parents and caregivers
- In displacement contexts, or where services have been disrupted, children with disabilities may not be able to access their usual therapy or support
- Where activities for children are being provided but children with disabilities are not accessing them
- Where children with disabilities are ‘invisible’ and not receiving support or accessing available services
Rather than assuming that support for children with disabilities should be a separate specialised programme, it is important to understand that all programming should actively seek to be inclusive of children with disabilities. At the same time, within a ‘twin track’ approach, there is likely to also be a need for targeted action to address the specific needs of children with disabilities.
Access for children with disabilities should not be seen as an optional addition to programmes but should be part of programme design. It may be necessary to modify the physical environment, or provide care giving or devices that enable children to access assistance or participate fully in activities. Assess whether children with disabilities are accessing existing programmes, and where they are not, take steps to enable and promote access:
- Ensure identification and registration
Children with disabilities are often overlooked during identification and registration processes. Those who have been displaced many times or who live in dispersed urban settings are especially likely to be overlooked. Children with disabilities are at a particular risk of not being registered at birth which exposes them to further protection risks including statelessness. Ensure birth registration for children with disabilities.
- Training for staff and volunteers
During situations of conflict, it is necessary to train teachers and community workers and leaders so that they will be sensitive to the rights of children with disabilities, and ensure that they are not marginalised but that their capacities and strengths are positively promoted. Informing parents about their children’s rights and needs and working with them to improve services and raise awareness is also a crucial part of the inclusion process.
- Awareness-raising activities
Attitudes of family members, caregivers and members of the community may contribute to the marginalisation of children with disabilities. This should be addressed through awareness-raising initiatives that are culturally appropriate. Emphasise the rights of children with disabilities in all information activities. Involve family members and caregivers in outreach activities, information campaigns and other communication initiatives, and in planning support, where appropriate. Appoint a staff member to monitor disability issues and ensure that team members and colleagues are sensitive to the importance of including children with disabilities and avoiding discrimination.
It is not possible to begin to address the rights of children with disabilities unless there is a clear understanding of which rights are being violated, why they are violated and where. Advocacy should highlight the most important issues, identify what needs to change and how and create messages to communicate the need for change.
- Promote access to education
Identify children with disabilities who do not attend school and identify barriers to school attendance for children with disabilities and agree at community level on actions to remove them. Adapt the physical environment in schools so that is fully accessible to all. Learning environments should be accessible in terms of the physical space, and be considerate of the child’s need, for example, being close to the blackboard, or, to have better light by sitting next to a window. These small changes may make the difference between a child with a visual disability getting value from a lesson or being labelled backward and missing out completely. Other children, including those with disabilities, may simply need more time to express themselves, or may need to have a ramp to enter the classroom.
Discuss with teachers how they can manage diverse classes; adapt the curriculum and involve education advisors as necessary. For children with severe disabilities who require individual or specialized support, investigate the availability of local specialized services. Involve school children as key agents of change. Consult them and monitor their participation in school, and address any issues arising.
Support referral systems
Create an effective referral system by mapping who can do what, where, when and how, in liaison with disability organisations, government agencies, relevant international and local organisations, or other service providers. Use community-based projects to signpost these services.
Children with disabilities are especially vulnerable to sexual and other forms of exploitation and abuse. Unfortunately, children with disabilities are particularly likely to be overlooked when protection programmes are designed and implemented. Work with all partners to identify and establish a system to monitor children at heightened risk and integrate children with disabilities throughout child protection mechanisms. Inform and train children and young people with disabilities, as well as their families and caregivers, on how to recognise, avoid and report instances of violence, exploitation and abuse.
Work with communities
Work with communities to identify children with disability, create community-based referral systems, and to identify and respond to protection issues. Programming activities should take a family-centred approach and help the family to become self-reliant.
Use appropriate information, dissemination and communication
Ensure that information is accessible. Use appropriate forms of communication, and clear messaging. For example, use simple language to communicate with children who have an intellectual disability, sign language for deaf children, picture formats and visual demonstration for those who cannot hear well, and radio and spoken communication for those with visual impairments.
Tools and resources
Information on this page is primarily taken from:
- UNHCR (2011), Working with Persons with Disabilities in Forced Displacement
- ARC: Critical Issue Module 3: Children with Disabilities
Additional tools and resources for support for children with disabilities are here