The Rights of People with Disabilities in Disasters & Public Health Emergencies

The rights of people with disabilities do not disappear in times of crisis.  While disasters, emergencies, and other crisis scenarios often require sacrifices, the rights and lives of disabled people do not need to be one of them.

For information on your rights in a disaster, please reference both sections below, which outline the rights of people with disabilities on a national and global level.

Rights of People with Disabilities in Disasters: Global

While specific laws and enforcement vary by country, there are some international protections for people with disabilities.

United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities

From the United Nation’s Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UN CRPD) page:

The Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and its Optional Protocol (A/RES/61/106) was adopted on 13 December 2006 at the United Nations Headquarters in New York, and was opened for signature on 30 March 2007. There were 82 signatories to the Convention, 44 signatories to the Optional Protocol, and 1 ratification of the Convention. This is the highest number of signatories in history to a UN Convention on its opening day. It is the first comprehensive human rights treaty of the 21st century and is the first human rights convention to be open for signature by regional integration organizations. The Convention entered into force on 3 May 2008.

The Convention follows decades of work by the United Nations to change attitudes and approaches to persons with disabilities. It takes to a new height the movement from viewing persons with disabilities as “objects”  of charity, medical treatment and social protection towards viewing persons with disabilities as “subjects” with rights, who are capable of claiming those rights and making decisions for their lives based on their free and informed consent as well as being active members of society.

The Convention is intended as a human rights instrument with an explicit, social development dimension. It adopts a broad categorization of persons with disabilities and reaffirms that all persons with all types of disabilities must enjoy all human rights and fundamental freedoms. It clarifies and qualifies how all categories of rights apply to persons with disabilities and identifies areas where adaptations have to be made for persons with disabilities to effectively exercise their rights and areas where their rights have been violated, and where protection of rights must be reinforced.

The Convention has 50 Articles, which cover: equality and nondiscrimination, women with disabilities, children with disabilities, awareness-raising, accessibility, right to life, situations of risk and humanitarian emergencies, equal recognition before the law, access to justice, liberty, integrity, and security of person, freedom from torture or cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment, freedom from exploitation, violence and abuse, liberty of movement and nationality, independent and community living, personal mobility, freedom of expression, access to information, respect for privacy, home, and family, education health, habilitation and rehabilitation, employment, adequate standard of living, participation in politics, public life, cultural life, recreation, and sports, and implementation details, including statistics and reports.

Disaster-specific guidance:

Article 11 – Situations of risk and humanitarian emergencies states that nations must take “all necessary measures to ensure the protection and safety of persons with disabilities in situations of risk, including situations of armed conflict, humanitarian emergencies and the occurrence of natural disasters.”

New guidance on national CRPD reporting for Article 11 on situations of risk and humanitarian emergencies is now available. The document aims to provide persons with disabilities, OPDs and other civil society organisations with practical support to analyse and report on the implementation of Article 11 of the CRPD at national level. It also provides a horizon scanning of legal frameworks applying at international level, and other relevant reporting mechanisms.

Link to new guidance on CRPD Article 11- Situations of Risk and Humanitarian Emergencies

Article 19 – Living independently and being included in the community recognizes the right of people with disabilities to live in their communities with the appropriate supports. The article states, “Community services and facilities for the general population are available on an equal basis to persons with disabilities and are responsive to their needs”, which can reasonably be applied to community shelters and services established to address a disaster or emergency situation.

Article 21 – Freedom of expression and opinion, and access to information states that people with disabilities are entitled to the “freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas on an equal basis with others and through all forms of communication of their choice”, which includes information about emergencies and disasters. This provision includes:

a) Providing information intended for the general public to persons with disabilities in accessible formats and technologies appropriate to different kinds of disabilities in a timely manner and without additional cost;

b) Accepting and facilitating the use of sign languages, Braille, augmentative and alternative communication, and all other accessible means, modes and formats of communication of their choice by persons with disabilities in official interactions;

c) Urging private entities that provide services to the general public, including through the Internet, to provide information and services in accessible and usable formats for persons with disabilities;

d) Encouraging the mass media, including providers of information through the Internet, to make their services accessible to persons with disabilities;

e) Recognizing and promoting the use of sign languages.

In addition to the Convention, there is an accompanying agreement, the Optional Protocol, that lays out additional protections for people with disabilities, to be signed and ratified seperately by nations who have already signed and ratified the Convention.

For a full list of signatories and ratifications/accessions by country visit the respective links to the United Nations Treaty Collection website:

Convention signatories & ratifications | Optional Protocol signatories & ratifications

Full text of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities:

Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction

The Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction 2015-2030 (Sendai Framework) is a 15-year agreement with 7 targets and 4 priorities for action which aim to achieve the substantial reduction of disaster risk and losses in lives, livelihoods, and health and in the economic, physical, social, cultural and environmental assets of persons, businesses, communities and countries.

The Sendai Framework is the first major agreement of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and is monitored through one global and seven regional biennial events known as the Global and Regional Platforms for Disaster Risk Reduction.

The aim of the Platforms are to review progress, share knowledge and discuss the latest developments and trends in reducing disaster risk. The outcomes of the Global Platform inform the deliberations of the High-Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development.

The framework was adopted by the United Nations in 2015 as a successor to the Hyogo Framework for Action (HFA) 2005-2015: Building the Resilience of Nations and Communities to Disasters, and places the responsibility of disaster risk reduction on the State, with support from local governments, the private sector, and other stakeholders.

The 4 priorities of the agreement include:

  1. Understanding disaster risk
  2. Strengthening disaster risk governance to manage disaster risk
  3. Investing in disaster risk reduction for resilience
  4. Enhancing disaster preparedness for effective response and to “Build Back Better” in recovery, rehabilitation and reconstruction

The Sendai Framework also includes 7 Global Targets to be achieved by 2030, which will be measured :Infographic, text: The Sendai Framework outlines 7 global target to be achieved by 2030: 1. Reduce disaster mortality Reduce the number of affected people globally Reduce direct economic loss in relation to GDP Reduce disaster damage to critical infrastructure and disruption of basic services Increase the number of countries with national and local disaster risk reduction strategies Substantially enhance international cooperation to developing countries Increase the availability of and access to multi-hazard early warning systems 

  1. Reduce disaster mortality
  2. Reduce the number of affected people globally
  3. Reduce direct economic loss in relation to GDP
  4. Reduce disaster damage to critical infrastructure and disruption of basic services
  5. Increase the number of countries with national and local disaster risk reduction strategies
  6. Substantially enhance international cooperation to developing countries
  7. Increase the availability of and access to multi-hazard early warning systems

For more information about the implementation of the Sendai Framework, visit the United Nation Disaster Risk Reduction (UNDRR) website.

Download the full text of the Sendai Framework:

[Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction 2015-2030, English]

[Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction 2015-2030, Arabic]

[Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction 2015-2030, Chinese]

[Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction 2015-2030, French]

[Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction 2015-2030, Russian]

[Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction 2015-2030, Spanish]

Dhaka Declaration

The Dhaka Declaration is a practical guideline for states to implement and report on Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction and Sustainable Development Goals on the inclusion of persons with disabilities.

Dhaka Declaration, 2015

Dhaka Declaration, 2018

The Charter on Inclusion of Persons with Disabilities in Humanitarian Action

The Charter on Inclusion of Persons with Disabilities in Humanitarian Action was developed in advance of the World Humanitarian Summit (23 and 24 May 2016, Istanbul) by over 70 stakeholders from States, UN agencies, the international civil society community and global, regional and national organizations of persons with disabilities. Charter endorsers commit to render humanitarian action inclusive of persons with disabilities, by lifting barriers persons with disabilities are facing in accessing relief, protection and recovery support and ensuring  their participation in the development, planning and implementation humanitarian programs.

Links to resources on the inclusion of people with disabilities in humanitarian action:

Charter on Inclusion of Persons with Disabilities in Humanitarian Action website

Guidelines – Inclusion of Persons with Disabilities In Humanitarian Action (PDF)

IASC Reference Group on Mental Health and Psychosocial Support in Emergency Settings

2019 Case study report – collection of case studies on how to include persons with disabilities in humanitarian action

Humanitarian inclusion standards for older people and people with disabilities

Hands-On Humanitarian Tool (HHOT) – Step-by-step practical guidance on inclusive humanitarian fieldwork

United Nations Disability Inclusion Strategy

The United Nations Disability Inclusion Strategy (UNDIS) represents a comprehensive strategy for ensuring that the United Nations system is fit for purpose in relation to disability inclusion. It provides a foundation for sustainable and transformative progress on disability inclusion through all pillars of the United Nations’ work.

Link to UNDIS (PDF)

For a full list of disability rights laws by country, we recommend the International Laws page from our colleagues at the Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund (DREDF).

Rights of People with Disabilities in Disasters: USA

The US has signed but not ratified the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, and has not signed the Optional Protocol. However, disability rights activists have fought continually for national disability rights protections with some major successes.

The following are adapted from the “Disabled? Know Your Rights in a Disaster!” page of the REAADI for Disasters Act & DRMA website, a project of The Partnership for Inclusive Disaster Strategies under the leadership of Marcie Roth, current WID Executive Director/CEO.

Right to information

You have a right to all disaster alerts & information in a format that is accessible to you.

  • All emergency information must be provided in clear, plain and actionable language.
  • ASL interpreters provided at public events must be qualified. When televised, the interpreter should be in-frame at all times.
  • Televised information must include captions for individuals who are Deaf and hard of hearing.
  • If you require sign language interpreters, Braille, large print, or other alternative formats, you have a right to reasonable accommodations throughout the disaster assistance process.

Right to evacuation transportation

You have a right to be included in community evacuation transportation plans.

  • Community evacuation transportation plans must include accessible options for people with mobility disabilities or limited transportation.

Right to independent living supports in community shelters

You have a right to disability services and supports in an accessible community shelter, not transferred to a “special” shelter, hospital, or nursing home.

  • If you lived in the community before the disaster, you have the right to be provided with the disability and health maintenance supports and services you require to maintain your health, safety, and independence;
  • It is a violation of your civil rights to be directed towards a “special needs or medical shelter,” a nursing home, hospital or other medical or psychiatric facility. Only people who require hospital or nursing home care should be separated from the community during or after a disaster.

Right to accessible temporary housing

You have a right to barrier-free shelter and temporary housing.

  • Shelters cannot discriminate when providing safety, comfort, or basic needs.
  • Shelters must be physically accessible. You have the right to accessible sleeping, eating, medical and recreation areas, toilets, showers and transportation (when transportation is available to others).
  • You have a right to a qualified sign language interpreter, Braille, large print, plain language, and other information, and to shelter-provided personal assistance services, back-up power for medical devices, privacy for personal care and accommodations for meeting disability-related needs for reduced stimulation.
  • You have a right to meals and snacks that meet your dietary and medical needs.
  • You have the right to keep your service animal with you throughout evacuation, sheltering and temporary housing.
  • Disaster services providers are required to allow individuals with disabilities to be accompanied by their service animals & must provide reasonable accommodations for meeting their needs.

Right to healthcare 

You have a right to receive care, and cannot be denied treatment because of your disability.

Full List of US Disability Rights Laws

For more information on your rights as a person with a disability in the United States, we recommend the US Department of Justice, Civil Rights Division’s Guide to Disability Rights Laws, which includes a section on each of the following laws:

Americans with Disabilities Act

Telecommunications Act

Fair Housing Act

Air Carrier Access Act

Voting Accessibility for the Elderly and Handicapped Act

National Voter Registration Act

Civil Rights of Institutionalized Persons Act

Individuals with Disabilities Education Act

Rehabilitation Act

Architectural Barriers Act

General Sources of Disability Rights Information

Statute Citations

Reporting Violations of Disability Rights

International violations

To report a violation of disability rights outside of the United States, you can contact the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which oversees the implementation of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in the 181 member nations who have signed the agreement. For more information on who to contact and what should be included in your complaint, visit the International Justice Resources Center’s Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities page.

US Violations

To report a concern or complaint of discrimination, you can contact the following agencies:

Federal Emergency Management Administration (FEMA) by:

    • Phone: Call FEMA at 202-212-3535 and press 1 for Civil Rights
    • Email: Send an email to: [FEMA-CivilRightsOffice@fema.dhs.gov] ;or
    • Mail: Send a letter explaining the issue to: [FEMA OFFICE OF EQUAL RIGHTS, Civil Rights Section 500 C Street, SW, Room 4SW-0915, Washington, DC 20472-3505]

U.S. Department of Health & Human Services (HHS), Office for Civil Rights, via the HHS Office for Civil Rights online portal.

U.S. Department of Justice, Disability Rights Section, via the Department of Justice Disability Rights Section website, or:

Mail to: U.S. Department of Justice, 950 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Civil Rights Division
Disability Rights Section – NYA
Washington, D.C. 20530

Talk to an ADA Specialist
800-514-0301 (voice)
800-514-0383 (TTY)

For more immediate assistance, we recommend calling the Partnership for Inclusive Disaster Strategies Disaster Hotline at: (800) 626-4959


If you are having technical issues or accessibility issues on this site, email wid@wid.org.

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