Strengthening inclusion of people with disabilities and older people through accountability mechanisms

04 August 2021

Inclusive accountability and feedback mechanisms are required to guarantee meaningful participation of affected population (especially those undermined by pattern of discrimination) and their ability to influence the services they receive from humanitarian actors.  Through a project funded by the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (SIDA), the IRC has updated its organizational framework for Accountability to Affected Population (AAP) to strengthen the inclusion of people with disabilities and older people. Our updated Inclusive Client Responsiveness Guidance is complemented by a Toolbox of resources on inclusion that are both practical and empowering for communities and front-line staff to have two-way communication, listen and adapt in response to feedback focusing on the following three aspects.

Strengthening IRC’s staff knowledge and skills to identify and address access barriers.

‘Universal design means the design of products, environments, programmes and services [including feedback channels] to be usable by all people, to the greatest extent possible, without the need for adaptation or specialized design.’ Article 2 of the UN Convention of the Rights of Persons with Disabilities

Findings from a project scoping study conducted in Tanzania and North-West Syria revealed a tendency to think that equal access for older people and people with disabilities falls into the “expertise trap” and requires a dedicated resource, a specialized team (e.g. protection or health) or a specialized disability partner organization. Although reasonable accommodation to facilitate access of people with disabilities and older people was reported on an ad-hoc basis, this was not provided systematically by the IRC. To support our staff to guarantee equal access to our feedback channels, we adapted existing materials to provide a training pack that meets learning needs of staff in different roles within the organization. The training pack focuses on the rights-based understanding of disability, removal of barriers, accessibility, and reasonable accommodation as well as meaningful participation.

Designing inclusive feedback channels and monitoring access levels

The more excluded a group is, the more important it is to ensure that they [humanitarian actors] can hear from them’ International Disability Alliance Humanitarian Network and Partnership Week 2021

When it comes to meaningful participation of all affected people, regardless of age, sex, disability and other factors, the first reaction is often to design a new activity or feedback channel specific for each group. As a result, we tend to group people arbitrarily and rush into assessment of their communication preferences, instead of focusing on removing barriers from our existing feedback mechanisms. The guidance supports humanitarian practitioners to design an inclusive channel based on client engagement preferences and evaluation of access barriers. It is accompanied by practical tools to support inclusive and participatory design, such as easy-to-read guidance, inclusive communication tips and instructions on how to conduct accessible focus group discussions and key informant interviews. The toolbox also provides examples of barriers likely to be present in IRC’s feedback channels, questions to identify them during surveys and a list of enablers to consider.

Collecting data on who is using our feedback channels is crucial to validate whether the channels put in place are being accessed by a wide range of people. The guidance recommends disaggregation of data by sex/gender, age and disability combined with the use of an accessibility audit which can be found in the toolbox and adapted. The IRC has adapted its client feedback form and electronic feedback registry to ensure that data on disability (using the Washington Group Short Set of Questions) and older age is collected and to allow us to monitor access to the various channels.

Closing the loop to build trust with clients and avoid fatigue

To gain trust of people with disabilities and older people, humanitarian actors such as the IRC need to demonstrate how feedback has been used and led to programmatic changes and better accessibility of services. The guidance has dedicated recommendations on communicating back to the community on the use of their feedback, the response put in place, and creating room for discussion on the decisions to improve our work. Using disaggregated data, we can now identify feedback from people with disabilities and older people and analyse trends, putting IRC’s staff in a strong position to design regular Client Feedback reports to establish the level of accessibility and satisfaction of services and feedback mechanisms. A good practice from the scoping study came from IRC North-West Syria which has put in place an internal communication newsletter called Client Voices which identifies examples where regular collection and analysis of feedback from clients has made a positive difference.

The complete Inclusive Client Responsiveness Guidance and Toolbox are available here. Through the use of these resources, we hope that we and the sector can improve our practices towards more inclusive, more accountable and thus better-quality humanitarian responses.


To learn more about IRC’s Client Responsiveness Framework, see

To access these resources in French, Arabic or Spanish, please contact valentina [dot] shafina [at] rescue [dot] org or pauline [dot] thivillier [at] rescue [dot] org

We want to recognize the contribution of members of the Disability Inclusive Client Responsivness Advisory Group, including organizations of persons with disabilities, academics and practitioners on AAP and inclusion. Our Advisory Group members were instrumental to the development of these resources.

Authors: Valentina Shafina, Client Responsiveness Specialist, IRC and Pauline Thivillier, Inclusion Advisor, IRC


  • Cover picture: (C) Griff Tapper - IRC, A Burundian man in the International Rescue Committee disability center in the Nyarugusu refugee camp in Tanzania
  • Picture 2: (C) HRDS/Afzal, Mansehra District, Pakistan: a student enjoys improved access to education after assistive devices and accessibility ramps are provided at her school