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Taking Action to Ensure the Inclusion of Persons with Disabilities in MSF

The Inclusion of Persons with Disabilities project is actively addressing the barriers faced by persons with disabilities in accessing humanitarian services with an interactive toolkit and transformative training for staff in MSF offices including targeted responses for Medical, Operations, Logistics and HR.


Tell us about the problem you are trying to solve.

An increasing number of NGOs, organizations representative of persons with disabilities (PWD), state and non-state actors recognize that “persons with disabilities are disproportionately affected in situations of risk and humanitarian emergencies and face multiple barriers in accessing protection and humanitarian assistance, including relief and recovery support. They are also particularly exposed to targeted violence, exploitation and abuse, including sexual and gender-based violence.” [1]

What is your solution? What have you done so far and what results have you achieved?

The following questions served as our starting point: who are the patients that are not reached by MSF’s medical services? Which barriers hamper access to MSF’s services for patients with disabilities? How can we shape MSF to become more inclusive of PWD? Do our policies and practices allow for inclusion of PWD among our staff?

We started with identifying partner organizations, Disabled People’s Organizations (DPOs), and resource persons, including PWD, within and outside of the MSF movement. We also performed a short survey among international and national staff working in MSF missions. The survey showed that 60% of our international staff and 80% of national staff believed they should have done more in their last assignment when it came to inclusion of persons with disabilities. Survey participants also mentioned how much small actions can make a difference, such as talking more about inclusion in our missions.

On this basis and following the experience of other actors and Disabled People’s Organizations, we developed simple, fun and easy-to-read materials: a video, a short 1-page guideline, and other tools. All are easily accessible on our dedicated open-access portal.

The portal is available in English, French, and in Arabic, thanks to our collaboration with the MSF regional office in UAE.

Several pilot trainings also took place, targeting MSF staff working in Headquarters and missions as well as MSF association members. These pilots allowed us to get a good picture of MSF training needs and expectations regarding inclusion of PWD. Our partner FEDOMA (Federation of Disability Organizations in Malawi), has already provided us with the training for MSF missionss and helped us develop online training content. MSF-Canada offered their expertise on developing eLearning courses. After several months of thorough work, the eLearning course was finally born on May 27, 2019.

The course is available on our inclusion portal and is free and accessible to everyone. It takes less than two hours to complete and provides concrete recommendations on how to follow through and practically implement inclusion.


What challenges have you faced? What lessons have you learned?

We’ve seen a lot of goodwill within the organization – and the question “who are the patients that are not reached by our services?” echoes strongly among our field staff. The challenges inside MSF are not very different than outside MSF: it is mainly about learning HOW to become more inclusive and WHAT actions we can easily take to make a difference. Providing simple solutions and making inclusion easy and fun remains key for us.

Working in collaboration with Disabled People’s Organizations, adapting the knowledge of other organizations and having resources inside and outside MSF also played important roles. Finally, as our project was building on a MSF motion, using both executive and associative channels for dissemination has also been key for success.

What have staff or patients said about the project?

Due to the project’s nature, our primary form of feedback at this stage are the reactions of MSF staff attending the training. One quote comes back repeatedly in the evaluations and says it all: “This was an eye-opener!”

We also see the participants’ excitement in feeling better equipped to practically implement inclusion and make a difference for MSF patients. Based on the experience of a project in Swaziland, the way inclusion transforms the perception of MSF clinics for the local population is also a good sign.

Are there any interesting partners that you are collaborating with?

Keys to the project’s success have been the MSF sections who spontaneously proposed their support. The regional MSF-UAE office offered to translate all our materials and our portal in Arabic, MSF-Canada offered all its expertise to develop the eLearning course, and MSF-Norway has been hosting the project and offering the support of its different departments. Its communication department produced the successful video presented at the IGA. Outside MSF, several NGOs produced and continue producing materials of interest for the project. We do not need to reinvent the wheel but rather select, simplify and customize these materials to make them suitable to MSF’s mission and working culture. Our collaboration with FEDOMA, which had already trained other NGOs, has been key to the success of the in-person and online trainings.

What is the expected long-term impact of the project? How will this project improve MSF’s lifesaving work and the lives of MSF’s patients?

All materials and trainings developed are here to stay and constitute a solid foundation with which to develop new practices and technical guidelines and share experiences. This will feed into MSF missions and Headquarters for improved access for persons with disabilities to our services.

[1] Charter on inclusion of persons with disabilities in humanitarian action – Key principles to make humanitarian action inclusive of persons with disabilities. (Not signed by MSF)