Children with disabilities in emergencies
Every child has the right to live in an inclusive world.
They are more likely to experience discrimination and violence; more likely to be left behind – abandoned or neglected; and more likely to face barriers accessing protection and aid, especially when forced to flee their homes. Girls with disabilities and children with intellectual disabilities are particularly vulnerable to exploitation and violence, including sexual violence.
Crises exacerbate the challenges children with disabilities encounter even in the best of times. Many are cut off from quality learning and health care, compared to their peers without disabilities. They often confront obstacles getting clean water and sanitation, including menstrual hygiene for girls. Inaccessible assistive devices, transportation and facilities put essential social services further from reach.
Through it all, mainstream humanitarian interventions often fail to consider the needs of children with disabilities. Nutrition programmes, vaccination campaigns and psychosocial support, for example, may be provided in schools or temporary learning spaces – from which children with disabilities are often excluded.
A key factor contributing to their heightened vulnerability is a lack of information and resources. For humanitarian actors, understanding how to conduct needs assessments or design services that account for children with disabilities is often low. What’s more, little data on children with disabilities exists in emergency settings. And for caregivers and children themselves, the dearth of information needed to make informed decisions in these situations – including the lack of accessible, child-friendly resources – raises another barrier.
What we do
UNICEF is committed to ensuring that all children with disabilities have safe, inclusive access to emergency services during crisis.
Making humanitarian action inclusive means bringing people with disabilities into decision-making, so that all emergency preparedness, response and recovery activities address their rights and needs.
It means making risk communication and community engagement accessible for children with hearing, visual, intellectual and physical impairments; applying accessibility standards to emergency services; and mobilizing crisis-affected communities to combat stigma and discrimination.
UNICEF works across sectors to make humanitarian action inclusive. We partner with organizations of persons with disabilities, sister UN agencies and other humanitarian actors to identify and address the barriers children with disabilities face when disaster strikes. Our efforts help humanitarian activities become accessible, including through targeted interventions – for example, those that provide assistive technologies.
To understand how children with disabilities are affected by crises, we also work to improve the disaggregation of data by disability. This is indispensable for planning and monitoring inclusive humanitarian action.
When children and young people with disabilities have the chance to make their communities safer and inclusive, everyone benefits. We promote opportunities for them to play an active role in emergency response, providing platforms for their participation and coordinating with youth organizations. This work allows children with disabilities, and their caregivers, to inform the design and implementation of programmes – while providing safe, confidential access to reporting mechanisms to relate grievances or other feedback on humanitarian action in their communities.
Finally, we support countries to consolidate and strengthen services established for people with disabilities during emergencies, so that communities emerge from crisis strong and resilient.