From care to access, people with disabilities face a host of barriers in conflict-affected areas of Ukraine. Facilities and procedures are often ill-adapted to their needs, a priority in areas where shelling occurs on a quasi-daily basis.
The ongoing conflict in Eastern Ukraine destroyed and damaged houses, roads and infrastructures, consequently reducing the population’s freedom of movement. Displacing about 1 million people, the conflict created physical disconnection between large urban centres and their peripheries, particularly affecting people with disabilities.
People with disabilities do not, at present, enjoy sufficient access to information, preparation and support during a conflict-triggered evacuation. This exclusion diminishes their capacity to evacuate, or be evacuated, in a safe and timely fashion.
Multiple reasons cause that exclusion. Cut off from information, people with disabilities – for instance those who have hearing or vision impairments and/or lack assisting devices – may be unable to hear news broadcasted on TV or radio. In addition, they often live far away from families and friends: this stems in part from the conflict which forced people into displacement and disrupted pre-existing social networks.
Isolation is also caused by damaged transportation networks, disrupted by the contact line, and a general lack of public services and health infrastructures in conflict-affected areas. While people with disabilities are more likely to need special medical care and essential equipments (such as hearing aids, wheelchairs, communication aids), staff who remain in conflict-affected areas are often not trained as specialists and consequently might be unable to provide adapted assistance. As a result, people with disabilities most often stay in ill-equipped facilities and wait a long time for needed assistance.
The situation in Eastern Ukraine illustrates how the implementation of international norms, including those that concern disability, is lagging in some national contexts. Recent policy change did not improve the situation for people with reduced mobility. While humanitarian assistance can improve their situation in the short term, an effective national legal framework is still needed in the long-term.
In this context, ACTED and its sister organization IMPACT, strive to contribute to better consideration of people with disabilities in humanitarian aid planning and delivery. For instance, both organizations collect data using the Washington Group Set of Questions related to seeing, hearing, walking, cognition, self-care and communication impairments and accessibility barriers. Furthermore, ACTED and IMPACT inform communities about projects implemented by humanitarian organizations which can have a positive influence on their life.
Under its 2019-2020 cash program, ACTED aims to support at least 1 000 people with disabilities/limited mobility. This represents 3% of all registered people with disabilities in Donetsk and Luhansk regions. Through the distribution of emergency cash, beneficiaries will be able to meet their basic needs, including in the sectors of food, winterization, and health. Adapting its humanitarian action to the context, ACTED works for instance with financial service providers who offer a home delivery modality, ensuring that people with limited mobility can receive and benefit from the cash assistance. On average, 98% are satisfied with the assistance distributed, with 95 % noting the importance of home delivery.
Starting in 2019, the ACTED-led 3P Consortium works jointly with local authorities and communities to develop mitigation and evacuation plans, so that specific barriers faced by people with disabilities are systematically taken into account. Indeed, there is currently little consideration given to protection when equipping emergency shelters, building material reserves or evacuation planning.
Good example to follow
Many European countries made concrete improvements on different aspects towards people with disabilities. As an example, Sweden developed laws and concrete measures to improve access to work for people with disabilities. The country created a barrier-free environment for them by establishing adequately equipped buildings, transport system and ensuring free medical, psychological, social and educational personal assistance. Swedish authorities also actively use the Internet to communicate with citizens. Going beyond traditional means of communication, modern technologies give to people with disabilites greater access to information and, subsequently, freedom of action.
Efforts to improve consideration of people with disabilities form part of ACTED’s global commitment to Zero Exclusion.