New app to support disability in emergency response

Photo by: CBM

CANBERRA — This World Humanitarian Day, development NGO CBM is releasing a first-of-its-kind app to make disability the headline discussion for humanitarian response.

An initiative of CBM’s Inclusive Emergency Response Unit, the Humanitarian Hands on Tool, or HHoT, provides field workers with guidelines to help them incorporate disability-inclusive thinking into their humanitarian action on the ground. Ramps, washrooms and communication are among the tasks and processes outlined for implementing solutions.

Content for the app is pulled from on-the-ground experience and a variety of humanitarian and inclusivity sources, with feedback sought from various humanitarian responders and disability experts during its development phase.

It is a tool CBM, an NGO dedicated to supporting people with disabilities in developing parts of the world, believes will help to fill existing gaps on how to implement global policies supporting disability — including the Sustainable Development Goals.

Identifying disability needs

CBM Australia have seen firsthand how easily humanitarian responses can overlook people with disability. The Asia-Pacific region is a hot spot for natural disasters, including cyclones, tsunamis, earthquakes and other weather-related events associated with climate change. Cyclone Pam is one such disaster which devastated Vanuatu in 2015.

The Vanuatu response was a case study on what not to do when trying to support disability in humanitarian responses, according to David Brown, senior program adviser at CBM Australia. He told Devex that it highlighted a number of problems, such as noninclusive evacuation and preparedness drills, noninclusive committees for disaster management, attitudes devaluing people with disabilities and evacuation centers with no facilities to support disability needs.

“Working with disabled people's organisations in a series of emergencies, CBM and other interested humanitarian responders have been aware for some time that the most marginalised people — which includes most people with disabilities — are often left behind,” Brown explained.

Overlooking people with disabilities may not be intentional, but a response to the lack of accessible information — this is where HHoT aims to make a difference.

Making information accessible and smart

“In order for mainstream responders to be able to better include these groups, CBM believes that this app will assist workers in the field, in the aftermath of a disaster or during an ongoing crisis, to better plan and implement responses which are truly inclusive,” Brown said.

Field workers generally do not carry around implementation manuals in an emergency response, but Brown believes an easy-to-access app is different. “It has the advantage of being easily portable and can be shared with multiple workers,” he said. HHoT has a further advantage of being available for use offline — critical if communications have failed in an emergency.

Although the app is designed to be used in a response scenario, its content can assist with promoting more inclusive preparation and postdisaster scenarios as well, ensuring that other vulnerable and often-marginalised groups — such as older people, children and pregnant women — are not forgotten. It could even help beyond the context of humanitarian programs, Brown suggested.

“The app could be used in a long-term ‘development’ scenario, as many of the barriers to inclusion of people with disabilities are part of the landscape where long-term development programs are implemented,” he said.

Seeking inclusive feedback

To date, HHoT has only been used internally by CBM. The charity sees World Humanitarian Day as an opportunity to open it up to wider use and wider feedback, with users encouraged to trial and test the product to ensure it is practical to use in humanitarian responses.

There will also be more extensive field testing conducted to trial ease of use, design features and gaps.

Ensuring that people with disability are considered at all phases of a humanitarian situation — including preparation, response, recovery and analysis — is critical. CBM believes that making information on disability inclusion easy to access and easy to understand is an important step toward making this happen.

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About the author

  • %25257b6eb61a8f df39 4ae1 bb29 9056d33aa739%25257d

    Lisa Cornish

    Lisa Cornish is a Devex Reporter based in Canberra, where she focuses on the Australian aid community. Lisa formerly worked with News Corp Australia as a data journalist for the national network and was published throughout Australia in major metropolitan and regional newspapers, including the Daily Telegraph in Melbourne, Herald Sun in Melbourne, Courier-Mail in Brisbane, and online through news.com.au. Lisa additionally consults with Australian government providing data analytics, reporting and visualization services. Lisa was awarded the 2014 Journalist of the Year by the New South Wales Institute of Surveyors.