Disabilities can develop during a person’s lifetime (for example, loss of a limb or contraction of a incurable disease), or develop before birth (such as with cognitive or learning disabilities). Regardless, during a disaster or humanitarian crises, special attention to the needs of disabled persons is heightened because accessibility and other relied-on resources may be significantly reduced. In a humanitarian setting, disability may also be a cause for additional human rights abuses, particularly with refugees, women, and children. Research in this area, therefore, is much needed, but unfortunately, remains understudied.
Specific ethical considerations identified by humanitarian health organizations typically include: understanding vulnerabilities associated with being disabled rather than as a general vulnerability; issues related to informed consent; caring for individuals who incur disability during an emergency or during health-related research study; and inclusion of the disabled in humanitarian and disaster research as a matter of social justice and equity.