The last to get help - people with disabilities in Ukraine

There are approximately 2.7 million people with disabilities in Ukraine. The vast majority of them have no opportunity to get out of the country. Many people cannot even get to safety during an emergency situation. Now that large-scale humanitarian efforts are planned and implemented, it is happening more or less completely without children and adults with disabilities in mind. The consequence of non-inclusive efforts is that people who could have been protected and survived are now injured and die.

En man åker i rullstol framfö ett bombat hus i Charkiv, Ukraina. Han har Ukrainas flagga fäst i sin rullstol.
Kharkiv, Ukraine March 2022.

When the aircraft alarm sounds, many people do not have a chance to get to safety. Many deaf people miss the warnings and only understand from the reactions of those around them that something has happened. The blind and those with severe visual impairments can not get around among the racial masses but have to rely on the surroundings. For those who use a wheelchair, it takes time to get to the shelter, if it is even possible to get into it.

In a disaster situation, it is often difficult for everyone to get food, water, care and information. For people with disabilities, it is even more difficult. During a quick evacuation, it can be difficult to get a wheelchair, aids and vital medicines. And finding their relatives in a crisis situation is often completely impossible if you are blind, deaf or do not have a spoken language. For many, an escape is not possible and they are forced to remain in danger and vulnerability and in dependence on others for their survival.

News and important information rarely reach everyone who needs to take part in it. Radio is not available to those who do not hear, and information given in writing - for example via posters or brochures is inaccessible to those who do not see or understand.

Some groups have difficulty understanding what is happening and how to act

Many children and adults with autism or intellectual disabilities do not understand what is happening or how to act to get to safety. In Ukraine, there are about 260,000 people with intellectual disabilities. Many of them live in institutions, sometimes in inhumane conditions. During an armed conflict, the situation becomes even more catastrophic. Testimonies are now being heard about how staff in many places have left the institutions and the residents to their fate. Children and adults with very great care needs are now without food and water, without being able to take care of themselves and without fully understanding what is happening.

Increased risk of violence, abuse and death

We know that people with disabilities are at greater risk of injury or death in armed conflicts - the mortality rate is four times higher than for those without disabilities. And children with disabilities are at greater risk than others of being abandoned.

Children, young people and adults with disabilities are also at significantly higher risk of being exposed to violence and sexual abuse. As so often, women and girls are particularly vulnerable. Trafficking in human beings and trafficking in Ukraine is a painful reality and the risk of children and young people with disabilities, and especially those with intellectual disabilities, being affected is very high. Young women and girls with disabilities suffer from violence and abuse to a ten times greater extent than those without disabilities.

Humanitarian actors lack knowledge and awareness

Actors are now gathering to support and help, both in Ukraine and at the borders of neighboring countries. But will the people with disabilities who have managed to escape get the help they need and are entitled to on the other side of the border? 

The help that manages to reach those who remain in Ukraine, will it reach people with disabilities? For example, will the distribution of food, water and supplies reach everyone who needs it? Will the information about the distribution reach sign language speakers, the visually impaired and those with intellectual disabilities? Will the places be chosen with care for those with reduced mobility so that everyone can reach out?

MyRight's advice to all actors, in Ukraine and in other conflicts:

Ensure that there is a coordinated role for the functional law perspective.
Then you can more easily coordinate, identify needs and involve people with disabilities.

Collaborate with functional rights organizations. Here is the knowledge, experience and networks needed to strengthen the work and ensure quality so that the humanitarian efforts actually reach those who today are often left out.

Increase your knowledge. Raise your general competence about people with disabilities and what their special needs may look like in ongoing conflicts, as well as how efforts can be better made available to reach everyone, regardless of

Identify people with special needs. Contact hospitals, habilitation centers, organizations of people with disabilities. Used Washington group-questions about disability.

Make sure that all information is disseminated in available formats. Information about protection, evacuation, distribution, warning systems, etc., must be available in a format that everyone, regardless of disability, can take part in.

Review what special needs there are. Special assistance is needed for evacuation, special medicines, sign language interpreters, wheelchairs, white canes, etc.

Ensure that the help reaches everyone. Access to water, food, sanitation and medicines must reach everyone, regardless of accessibility needs. Choose a place for distribution with accessibility in mind for everyone, make sure that the information about the distribution reaches everyone. Make sure coordinators are aware of different special needs.

MyRight's advice for individuals:

Support organizations that explicitly work with people with disabilities.

Support organizations that operated in Ukraine even before the conflict. Influence them by asking how they support people with disabilities

Major shortcomings in preparedness among humanitarian actors

en kvinna i rullstol bärs av soldater över en förstörd bro i Kiev, Ukraina
Kyiv, Ukraine March 2022.

Preparedness for humanitarian operations that include people with disabilities is alarmingly low. There is a lack of awareness about the large number of people with disabilities in Ukraine, about what the needs may look like and how they can be met. Large aid organizations with enormous resources testify that they can not help people with disabilities.

Virtually no actor is prepared to include people with disabilities in their humanitarian actions in their action plans, despite many years of work. Despite the fact that more than half of all people with disabilities live in countries affected by crises and conflicts, people with disabilities continue to be excluded in connection with humanitarian efforts. Very few policy documents, strategies, action plans or treaties even mention people with disabilities.

The humanitarian work of Swedish organizations still lacks a clear functional law perspective and the consequence is that the humanitarian efforts that are made miss millions of people around the world.

Inclusive efforts do not have to be complicated, many times it is about thinking twice. For example, about how information is designed: can this information reach someone who is deaf, blind or using a wheelchair?

It should be a matter of course for all actors in the humanitarian field to work on the basis of the awareness that there are people with disabilities. All people must have the right to be protected and to be able to escape to safety in armed conflicts.

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