Making inclusion in humanitarian settings a reality

DG ECHO’s guidance note on the inclusion of persons with disabilities in EU-funded humanitarian aid operations

Globally, an estimated 15 % of people have a disability, a proportion which is likely to rise. Ways to deliver assistance and protection to persons with disabilities in humanitarian settings are insufficiently adapted. Due to discrimination, as well as environmental, physical and social barriers, they are more likely to be excluded from emergency responses and humanitarian services. The European Commission's Directorate-General for European Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations (DG ECHO) has developed a guidance note to address the specific needs of persons with disabilities in humanitarian settings. This session aims to raise awareness and discuss good practices to ensure better, safer, more accessible and inclusive humanitarian aid.

Key points

  • Persons with disabilities must be involved in the design and development of humanitarian assistance.
  • Conflict areas heighten the vulnerability of persons with disabilities and assistance is often not adapted to their needs.
  • Recently introduced Directorate-General for European Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations (ECHO) guidelines seek to improve the inclusion of disability considerations in humanitarian assistance; they aim to identify and address gaps in aid.
  • Women are especially vulnerable to assault in humanitarian settings; they are four to 10 times more likely to suffer an attack.
  • Disabled persons’ organisations are not just beneficiaries of aid but a source of expertise and must be an integral part of a humanitarian response


Though Disabled Persons’ Organisations (DPOs) have welcomed the European Union’s focus on the issue of inclusiveness in humanitarian aid, they highlight the inadequate provision of assistance across the world. In South Sudan, for example, visually impaired persons were allocated separate camps – ostensibly for their own protection. However, examples abound of discrimination in crisis situations. A particular challenge relates to the perception of persons with disabilities as a homogenous group. They are often seen as having special needs or treated as having a medical issue. In Syria, one refugee reports that children with disabilities were seen before the civil war as not being able to make a valid contribution to society and their education was neglected. The refugee, who now lives in Germany, says he encountered a similar lack of inclusiveness along his migration route. He surmises that humanitarian aid is insufficient to address the vast gaps in assistance, raising the issue that aid must be adequately resourced if it is to be effective. Finland has been a trailblazer for inclusiveness. The country played a key role in bringing governments together on the issue at a summit in 2016 that led to the drawing up of a charter on inclusiveness. This charter has now been signed by 29 countries, along with the EU. Finland will continue to raise this issue on the agenda as it takes over the presidency of the EU in the coming weeks. Persons with disabilities are especially vulnerable in conflict areas; they are less able to flee dangerous sites and more likely to be targeted by thieves. They are, moreover, less likely to be able to access humanitarian assistance and may even be subject to negative attitudes if they do so. For this reason, campaign organisations are calling for more people with disabilities to be part of the humanitarian effort and to be present on the ground. DPOs argue that not only should people with disabilities, and their representative organisations, be involved in the design of policy but also in its implementation. Stakeholders agree that the paucity of quantifiable and qualitative data is an urgent issue that must be addressed. Gathering data on the effectiveness of policies and their implementation will help better target assistance to address the gaps to inclusiveness. Adherence to ECHO guidelines – a living document that can be amended as needed – must be tracked to ensure that provision is moving towards the better inclusion of the most vulnerable in humanitarian settings, that is persons with disabilities.


It is reportedly rare to find persons with disabilities working in humanitarian assistance, even though their first-hand experience would be invaluable in ensuring efforts are adapted to the most vulnerable.

Organised by


Monique Pariat
Director General - DG for Civil Protection and Humanitarian Operation - EC
European Commission - DG for Civil Protection and Humanitarian Operation
Ioannis Vardakastanis
European Disability Forum
Sien Andries
Global Specialist Inclusive Humanitarian Action
Humanity and Inclusion
Mohamad Jolo
Self Advocate
Satu Santala
Director General of the Department for Development Policy
Ministry for Foreign Affairs, Finland
Christos Stylianides
EU Commissioner for Humanitarian Aid and Crisis Management
European Comission