How to be supportive and inclusive of refugees with disabilities in your community.
This resource has been produced for Reset to support and inform Community Sponsorship groups working with refugee children or adults with disabilities and their families. This brief has been produced by Kate McAuliff, a multidisciplinary consultant and researcher working at the intersection of disability and displacement.
Who and where are refugees with disabilities?
Many refugees acquire disabilities while living amongst disaster, war, conflict, or resource depravation. There are also refugees who are born with or become disabled unrelated to the unrest that makes them leave their homes.
In either situation, disability is a cross-cutting issue that impacts many aspects of life.
What is Disability?
Disability stems from the interaction between a health condition or state of the body or mind and the environmental or personal factors in a person’s environment. Disability is sometimes viewed from a medical perspective, with a focus on certain functions of the body or mind.
Disability is also a social identity and experience; and an aspect of human diversity. Disability is a broad category including developmental, physical, sensory (i.e. visual impairment, deafness), or behavioral/emotional disabilities as well as other physical or neurodiversity.
What does Disability Inclusion look like for refugees?
Becoming displaced and arriving in the UK as a refugee entails a large amount of stress and effort. A family with a disabled member, and a disabled refugee themselves face even more barriers to access and support.
Furthermore, refugees with disabilities and their families have the additional need of accessing accommodations, support, assistive devices, and medical care upon arrival in the UK.
Imagine these situations:
- Completing complex paperwork with a learning disability or attention disorder.
- Navigating a new country with a vision impairment or as a deaf person.
- Being placed in a home that isn’t accessible to you because you use a wheelchair.
Views of Disability
Disability in general or specific disabilities may be viewed differently depending on cultural context, resources, and environments. It’s important to be sensitive to how others may define disability, as well as creating safe spaces without judgement.
People with disabilities often face stigma, discrimination, ableism, or marginalization. This is further exacerbated by being a refugee in a new country. This may lead to a family not disclosing they have a disabled child or adult member, for fear of discrimination. In other cases, there are opportunities for disabled refugees and their families to be prioritized for resettlement or other services within the asylum system.
The rights of refugees with disabilities
Due to vital advocacy work by Refugee Action and other organizations in 2016, refugees are eligible for disability benefits when they are granted sanctuary in the UK, and don’t have to wait to meet the formerly imposed 2-year presence test. This ensures disabled refugees and their families can access their rights and vital resources and support.
Supporting individuals, parents, and families
While disability is very common in any community, you may be encountering disability for the first time. Fortunately, you don’t have to be any kind of expert to support disabled people and their families! There are resources available if you know where to find them.
Supporting the agency and individuality of disabled people
Disability is a diverse category, but the expert on the disability you’re encountering is the disabled person themselves! In making any decision, include the disabled person as much as possible.
Parents and family members, especially with disabled children, should also be trusted to make informed decisions. Be sure to work with interpreters and other supports to ensure families and individuals understand their options. Then facilitate them making their own decisions about accommodations, education, and other disability-related resources.
Disability in the family system
Disability in the family can lead to a variety of tasks and roles. For example, some family members may be acting as carers for their disabled member, which may impact their schedule and involvement in other activities while resettling in the UK.
Disability is cross-cutting, and impacts a multitude of aspects of family and community life. Keep a keen eye to any potential impact on or barriers to the opportunities given to non-disabled family members as well as any family members who aren’t in a caretaking role.
Working with local authorities, schools, and communities
Don’t forget that disability is common and the disabled refugee, their family and your Community Sponsorship group don’t need to navigate alone! There are resources and responsibilities which are shared in your community and beyond.
In the UK, there are several options for the education of children with disabilities. Every school in the UK should have a Special Educational Needs Co-Ordinator (SENCO) who can assist in advising and implementing suitable education for a disabled student. Legally, schools are meant to prioritize seeking accommodation for disabled children to remain in the mainstream classroom, but other specialized classrooms or schools may be an alternative option.
The accessibility of the school for a student with a disability may include:
- Teaching methods and materials
- Language or modality communication.
- Physical accessibility of spaces and facilities
- Expertise of school staff.
The UK is home to a multitude of organizations, charities, and initiatives for and by people with disabilities. While these are not refugee-specific, their experience with disability is a vital resource. Many charities will also be a gateway into a community of people with disabilities which the disabled refugee and their family can connect with.