This section discusses some of the obstacles and challenges that resettled refugees with disabilities may encounter in the process of being integrated into a receiving community, and presents strategies and key actions to ensure their equal participation in all key programmatic areas for integration on an equal basis with refugees who do not have disabilities.
Including refugees with disabilities
- Individual information on accessibility and support requirements;
- Developing a comprehensive placement system that takes refugees’ specific needs and aspirations into account;
- Accessibility of pre-departure (flights, reception, transit arrangements) and post-arrival services;
- Engaging volunteers with and without disabilities to provide support, including peer support when possible;
- Accessibility of temporary accommodation and transportation;
- Support early identification and individualized assessment;
- Availability on targeted services for persons with disabilities, and eligibility criteria;
- Providing training for case workers on supporting refugees with refugees with disabilities and available services.
- Availability of social protection programs for persons with disabilities compatible with refugee support programs;
- Targeted income support for persons with disabilities when relevant.
- Availability of sign language interpreters and other types of individualised support for language;
- Training for language interpreters on working with refugees with disabilities;
- Accessibility of training facilities, information and materials;
- Skills development for language trainers on engaging with resettled refugees with disabilities;
- Specialised training (e.g. training on sign language of the resettlement country);
- Including services for refugees with disabilities in orientation packs;
- Accessibility of information, including by developing multiple formats and targeted content for resettled refugees with disabilities;
- Training for orientation staff on working with resettled refugees with disabilities;
- Engaging volunteers with and without disabilities in joint support initiatives;
- Including services for refugees with disabilities in orientation packs;
- Mapping national accessibility standards and their adherence when selecting temporary and long-term housing;
- Engaging persons with disabilities in conducting accessibility audits;
- Planning financial support to improve accessibility in existing housing;
Employment and Education
- Mapping information and resources that support the education and employability of persons with disabilities and compatibility of criteria for refugees;
- Planning individualized assessments and school/job placement support for resettled refugees with disabilities;
- Accessibility and confidentiality of health services, including sexual and reproductive health services for women with disabilities;
- Mapping of specialized health services for persons with disabilities;
Welcoming and inclusive societies
- Engagement with organizations of persons with disabilities and other civil society groups working with persons with disabilities;
- Promoting the participation of resettled refugees with disabilities in women, youth and refugee-led initiatives;
- Promoting the respect and appreciation of resettled refugees with disabilities as part of human diversity;
- Conducting an analysis of the receiving community, considering relevant resources, programs and policies related to both integration of refugees and disability, and how they may interact;
- Providing training to staff supporting persons with disabilities on the needs and circumstances of resettled refugees.
Meeting the rights of refugees with disabilities
Successful integration for refugees with disabilities can be achieved if barriers are identified and removed, allowing equal access to services and participation in the receiving society. Failure to identify and address these barriers during the integration process could lead to situations of discrimination, and result in isolation. Given the opportunity, resettled refugees with disabilities play an active role as workers, students and community members, acting as contributors to their own wellbeing and as a socioeconomic and cultural resource for the resettlement country.
Factors to consider in key program areas
Policy, Guidance and Tools
The challenge in placement is to ensure that there is an appropriate match between the specific needs of resettled refugees, and the resources and needs of the receiving community. Careful planning of placement and the involvement of resettled refugees and receiving communities in placement decisions can help to ensure that refugees start out with the best prospects. Refugees with disabilities should have an opportunity to express their wishes, concerns and talk about any requirements to support their integration.
Factors that impact placement decisions are similar for all refugees. Placement and site selection are complex processes which need to take into account a variety of factors including the attributes and aspirations of resettled refugees as well as context of the receiving community.
the presence of family members of relatives;
the availability of accessible housing;
dedicated programs to support access to employment;
availability of services inclusive for, and targeted to, persons with disabilities (and their capacity to welcome and absorb resettled refugees with disabilities as users);
the existence of Organizations of Persons with Disabilities (OPDs) committed to share key information relevant to disability and engage in peer support efforts.
Among the potential factors to consider during reception of resettled refugees with disabilities include:
- Airport reception and transit arrangements.
- Accessible transportation.
- Interpretation. Particular attention should be paid to planning for Sign Language Interpretation in the preferred language used by the refugee.
- Reception accommodation. The accessibility of both temporary and permanent accommodation is crucial to ensure the safety and independence of refugees with disabilities.
- Engaging volunteers and members of refugee communities with and without disabilities to establish peer support and enhance a sense of safety and security.
Organizations of Persons with Disabilities (OPDs) as key partners
- OPDs often have access to information on national policies and services for persons with disabilities and can be key allies in providing information and support across all phases of the integration process. For example, in Sweden, the Independent Living Institute developed a project, called Disabled Refugees Welcome to support improving the reception, establishment and living conditions of refugees with disabilities. The project also developed an information handbook
In the early integration period, resettled refugees will have to access large amounts of information and engage in multiple and, sometimes, complex processes to allow them to access housing, employment, income support, health care, and many other basic services.
Refugees with disabilities would benefit from the following additional information:
- Establishing processes and services for individualized assessment of the needs of resettled refugees with disabilities. In some countries, specialized services have been established to respond to the additional needs that newly arrived refugees may require, and plan for longer term integration support.
- Building the capacity of services to work with refugees with disabilities. Service providers should build their understanding of the experiences of refugees, barriers they face in accessing services, mapping referral pathways, and building trust.
- Promoting policies and program that provide access to assistive devicesand technology for refugees with disabilities. Newly resettled refugees with disabilities may not have assistive devices and/or records of their impairment. Therefore, during the initial stages of integration, resettlement countries should consider prioritising access to assessments and issuing of assistive devices to refugees with disabilities.
- Provision of practical orientation information, such as registering with relevant government programs (e.g. social protection schemes for persons with disabilities), school enrolment for children with disabilities, among others.
Income support are payments made to resettled refugees to meet basic living costs prior to becoming self-reliant. The level and duration of income support payments will vary from country to country. Payments should be made available for long enough to allow resettled refugees to adjust to their new country, attend to post arrival tasks, prepare for and search for employment or other income-generating activities. Some resettled refugees may be unable to work for an extended period of time and may need to be assessed for alternative forms of income support due to their physical or mental health (such as disability or sickness allowances). Therefore, arrangements will have to be made to ensure that appropriate income support is available for resettled refugees with disabilities and that they receive social protection allowances.
Harmonisation of policies and programs that assist people with disabilities with those that assist refugees is vital to avoid refugees with disabilities falling through the safety net. Carefully mapping the admission criteria and compatibility of these programs will be relevant to ensure refugees with disabilities receive necessary support. In some countries, social protection allowances may not be compatible with income support offered to resettled refugees. In other countries, disability and/or refugee income support program may not be compatible with employment, while an allowance to access transportation or assistive devices may be key and sufficient for a person with a disability to engage in employment (see for example).
Sign Language Interpretation
Resettled refugees with disabilities that access language training can become more independent, navigate national information and systems and pursue education and employment opportunities on an equal basis with others.
Learners with disabilities may face attitudinal, physical and information barriers in their learning experiences. It is important to ensure that classrooms or training facilities, including toilet and other shared areas are accessible; that learning materials cater for the needs of persons with disabilities, such as printed books without audio equivalent materials. Language teachers should be trained on working with learners with disabilities.
When planning language training programs, consider:
Including sessions on accessibility and communication with persons with disabilities in professional development efforts for language teachers.
Engaging with national organizations of persons with disabilities and national education services, as these may have resources and specialized teachers with experience in inclusive education. These resources can be mobilised to provide dedicated training to language teachers involved in teaching resettled refugees with disabilities.
Resettled refugees who are deaf or hearing impaired/hard of hearing should be provided education using the sign language of the resettlement country. Planning access to sign language training within the receiving community can support to establish networks and support the inclusion into, for example, the national deaf community. Where a group of refugees who are deaf are resettled together, specific sign language classes may be facilitated for them. Such a program has been established in Rochester, New York, USA.
Establishing official interpreting services in key government departments (e.g. education, income support, legal services).
Planning flexible ways of delivering language classes for resettled refugees with disabilities. Segregated programs or providing only on-line and distance learning modalities for refugees with disabilities should be avoided, as this will contribute to further isolation and prevent the establishment of support networks.
Upon arrival resettled refugees will need to go through intense adjustment to an unfamiliar environment, a time when they will be coming to terms with a range of changes, from a different language, weather conditions and daily routines to new foods, shopping conventions and currency. Orientation programs should be tailored for diverse groups with specific needs such as refugees with disabilities.When establishing orientation, consider:
Using multiple and accessible forms of communication. For example, having, at a minimum, information in written and audio formats can ensure a minimum level of accessibility. In addition, having key information in additional formats addressed to persons with disabilities such as Braille and “easy-to-read” formats.
Strengthening the competencies and skills of staff delivering orientation on the rights of persons with disabilities and providing basic skills training on how to ensure access to services for persons with disabilities.
Orientation materials should include information on national disability laws, policies and entitlements. The content could map and clarify how national laws and systems that support resettled refugees and persons with disabilities interact and complement each other. Suggested areas may include accessibility in housing and public transportation, access to specialized health care, access to inclusive education, access to social protection programs for persons with disabilities (including, where applicable, gaining accreditation as person with a disability), or access to employment for persons with disabilities.
Recruiting and training local volunteers to assist with orientation, including volunteers with disabilities. Peer learning can be provided by engaging former refugees with disabilities as peer instructors during orientation sessions. For example, The Independent Living-Movement in Sweden uses peer-support to exchange experiences and learn strategies from each other on how to navigate in the community.
Engaging with organizations of persons with disabilities.
Easy-to-read information is clear and easy to understand.
It is written using everyday words, no jargon or acronyms.
It uses large fonts, wide spaces between words, and it is supported by pictures.
It can support people with intellectual disabilities to better understand written information.
It also benefits people who are less literate or less familiar with reading complex information.
There are organizations specialized in developing easy-to-read content in your country. They do it consulting with persons with disabilities. Contact them!
When establishing a new resettlement program, aim for:
Housing that meets the needs of resettled refugees with special housing needs.
Providing financial support or subsidies to retrofit accessibility in existing housing. This can be targeting certain areas of the house that can improve the independence and safety of the person (e.g. bathroom/toilet), and include dedicated grants to acquire assistive devices that can improve the quality of life and independence of the individual with a disability within the household.
Mapping national laws, standards and processes to access accessible housing.
Temporary housing that adheres to national accessibility standards.
Providing training to service providers responsible for allocating public sector housing, including content in cultural diversity and accessibility.
Engaging with OPDs and resettled refugees with disabilities in assessing the accessibility of housing including proximity to transportation. This type of exercise is often called an accessibility audit.
Self-reliance is one of the most important factors for the successful integration of resettled refugees with disabilities. Without access to employment, resettled refugees with disabilities risk being trapped in a cycle of dependence, social and economic marginalization, missing the extended benefits of employment, including the development of friendships and social connections, and the possibility of increasing their own self-esteem as active contributors to their families and communities. It may also prevent them from applying for family reunification for example in countries where a minimum income level is a prerequisite. Obstacles to access employment will be compounded when intersecting with other factors of inequality, such as gender and age.
When establishing a new resettlement program, aim for:
Identifying and developing partnerships with key public and private sector partners (e.g. job placement providers, employers, employer associations) with experience on including persons with disabilities in employment opportunities.
Incorporating information about employment conditions for persons with disabilities in dedicated orientation sessions. Content can include services to support their employment (e.g. access to assistive devices and occupational therapy) and processes required (for example accreditation processes for disability that may entail health and socio-economic assessments).
Providing training and planning for individualized assessment and job placement, where possible through an existing provider with experience in working with persons with disabilities.
Engaging persons with disabilities with refugee backgrounds as peer supporters to share experience and strategies to prevent and mitigate potential barriers that are more frequently found in accessing employment.
Targeted support and specialized job placements for refugees with disabilities in order to increase their capacity to engage in employment.
Optimal physical and mental health is a vital resource for integration. Poor health may act as a significant barrier to integration. Ensuring that resettled refugees have access to health care as soon as possible after arrival optimises the opportunities for early intervention.
Many countries offering refugee resettlement recognise the importance of making formal arrangements for resettled refugees to participate in a thorough health assessment or a ‘health check’ either prior to or soon after their arrival. Formal health assessments can provide important information to direct refugees with specific needs, such as refugees with disabilities to specialised services. For example, accessing occupational therapy and assistive devices to increase quality of life, independence and employability; accessing sexual and reproductive health services; and accessing mental health services, including specialized support and counselling for survivors of torture and persons with psychosocial disabilities.
Health assessments and examinations should consider the holistic health needs of resettled refugees with disabilities, and prevent referring persons with disabilities to disability-related health services only. For example, women with disabilities should have equal access to sexual and reproductive health services, as well as children with disabilities to child health services.
When establishing a new resettlement program, aim to:
Identify health care providers who have expertise in health issues of particular concern to persons with disabilities (e.g. professionals on rehabilitation, including physical therapy and occupational therapy, suppliers of assistive devices and prosthetics, professionals working on mental health, etc.).
Provide information on how to access disability-related health subsidies.
Provide interpreters for health care consultations and consider identifying sign language interpreters and other professionals with training on facilitating communication with persons with disabilities.
Welcoming and inclusive societies
Welcoming communities foster a culture and policy environment that makes it possible for resettled refugees to feel valued and to fully participate in the social, civic, and economic fabric of the resettlement country. To foster community participation consider promoting meaningful engagement of resettled refugees with disabilities with refugee-led and community based-organisations including OPDs. Joint partnerships with refugee committees and refugee-led organizations could also raise awareness on shared issues, promote participation as equal partners in the assessment, design, implementation and monitoring of integration programs.