ICTs in Disability-inclusive Guidance for Humanitarian Aid Workers

There are many ways in which ICTs can be deployed in improving conditions for disabled people. By now, we have mostly talked about digital assistive technology and the access to and availability of such technologies. Additionally, and regarded from a more general perspective, ICTs are often used to gather information about the different populations in need. You can see this is in humanitarian interventions, where experts carry out geospatial mapping initiatives, as for instance after typhoon Yolanda hit the Philippines.

However, in this post, I would like to flip the coin: how about guidance technology for humanitarian aid workers aiming at implementing disability-inclusive interventions? This post is going to present some of the discussions and current developments of such disability-inclusive guidance and the role of ICTs.

In alignment with other reports, the UN highlights in its recommendation section of a report delivered on Disability in Humanitarian Contexts that local and international NGOs and humanitarian organizations should “sensitise staff and strengthen their capacity to identify and include persons with disabilities [in humanitarian interventions] through training”. Although different organizations and frameworks such as the Sendai Framework have highlighted the importance to include people with all abilities in interventions, people with disabilities are facing many difficulties in accessing support during humanitarian crisis. This situation also has an impact on the long-term development of people with disabilities after the crisis situation. For example, if assistance to health care cannot be provided throughout a crisis situation due to services not being disability-inclusive, long-term effects can be severe.

In order to mitigate these situations and to build on the various agreements, frameworks and also on the broader aims established by the Sustainable Development Goals to include people with all abilities in economic growth etc., various guidance documents have been established both for children, youth and adults. One example is the guidance on the inclusion of people with all abilities developed by UNICEF. This manual provides background information on the necessity of the inclusion of people with all abilities, but also displays varied practical information on how to design inclusive interventions, especially in disaster situations.

After the World Humanitarian Summit in 2016, the report “recognized that persons with disabilities are among the most marginalized in any crisis-affected community” and developed a Task Team to create a “system-wide guidance on inclusion of persons with disabilities in humanitarian action”. Looking at the tasks and aims of this team, we see that there is no evident focus on ICT.

But what is the benefit of ICT to guidance programs?


Humanitarian Hands-On Tool for Disability Inclusion Developed by CBM


This video is developed by the Christian Blind Mission – CBM and shows how digital ICTs as defined by Richard Heeks, as “any entity that processes or communicates digital data” for instance, apps can be beneficial to such guidance. A closer analysis of the topics covered by the HHot-app shows that they are overlapping with many topics from the UNICEF guidance for instance as global standards such as the WASH established by the Sphere Charter are explained and broken down to be inclusive for people with all abilities. Interestingly, both the written guidance and the app draw upon the ‘Twin-Track Approach’. This approach aims at ensuring accessibility and disability- inclusiveness in humanitarian interventions (such as access to information, health centres etc.) on-one hand, but also accessibility to disability-specialized services such as assistive technology, on the other hand. The more inclusive such interventions are designed or adapted through quick hands-on ideas as provided both in the app and in the guidance tool, the more options there are for a recovery for people with all abilities from disaster situations. This also provides a tiny answer to the question on how to realize the rights in practice, in real lived lives of 1 billion different human beings with different types of needs.

The advantage of such technological guidance is that they are easily accessible, have search functions and many additional tools so that the user can appropriate the tool to his/her needs. They can be on-the-go tools in addition to the trainings received by aid workers. Additionally, as explained, as well, in the video, once the app is downloaded, no further internet connection is needed, so the app can be used even in remote areas (some kind of charger would be needed though) and by people from all professional backgrounds aiming at creating inclusive disaster interventions. The aim of such apps is also to keep on improving as the CBM pledges on their promotional webpage of the tool for further for recommendations, feedback and additional information in order to keep improving and remain updated.

I would like to close this post with a quote by Tim Unwin: “A first step in a critical understanding of ICT4D is thus to recognize that technologies by themselves cannot contribute effectively to development. It is the interests underlying them, and the intent for which they are used that matter. It is therefore crucially important that any analysis of ICTs in development begins with an understanding of such interests. Only when more technologies are designed and utilized effectively and explicitly in the interests of the poor and the marginalized may the aspiration of a more equal and thus better society be achieved.” So yes, we need to remain critical about ICTs in development and about their usage, but if they help to create inclusive interventions for people with all abilities, then it’s their effectiveness that needs to be evaluated.

Have you heard of any similar disability-inclusive apps for aid workers or do you have already used this app?


Written by JW