Swift and Systematic? Identifying and Recording Disability in Forced Migration

  • Mary CrockEmail author
  • Laura Smith-Khan
Part of the Social Indicators Research Series book series (SINS, volume 61)


In this chapter we reflect on the use of the Washington Group’s functionality approach to identifying disabilities in fieldwork conducted across 3 years and six countries. Funded by the Australian government, researchers from the University of Sydney explored the adequacy of systems used by UNHCR and other agencies to identify disabilities in populations of displaced persons. They found that humanitarian agencies have relied heavily on either self-reporting by persons with disabilities or on the visual identification of impairments. The inadequacies in this approach are apparent in agency records showing disability rates in refugee populations that fall way below the averages suggested by the World Health Organisation in its Global Disabilities Report. We found that the High Commissioner for Refugees was accurate in describing persons with disabilities as the invisible and forgotten refugees. Our research examined the dramatically different results achieved by UNHCR when versions of the Washington Group questions were used in a verification exercise in Pakistan. If a similar approach were adopted in registration procedures across the world, we argue that UNHCR would generate data that aligns more closely with global standards. Data on disabilities is critical to developing accessible programs. Of course, asking the right questions is only one part of a complex equation. The nature of displacement throws up many challenges to identification. Awareness raising and training are crucial, as is the dissemination of information in suitable languages and formats. Empowering refugee communities and groups of refugees with disabilities creates valuable conduits for referrals.


Cerebral Palsy Asylum Seeker Displace Person Functional Difficulty Refugee Convention 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.



Special thanks to Ron McCallum AO for comments on the chapter in draft. In writing this chapter we acknowledge with gratitude financial assistance received from Mrs Judy Harris and AusAID for the “Protection of Refugees with Disabilities” Project. The views expressed are those of the authors alone.


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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Faculty of LawUniversity of SydneySydneyAustralia
  2. 2.Linguistics DepartmentMacquarie UniversitySydneyAustralia

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