Participatory Action with Refugees with Disabilities
Standard approaches to qualitative research often exclude persons with different types of disabilities. In 2013 and 2014, the Women’s Refugee Commission applied a participatory model to examine the intersections of sexual and reproductive health and disability in three refugee settings.
Respecting the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and a rights-based framework to research, we engaged a variety of stakeholders—including organizations of persons with disabilities—from the planning and design phase, through to implementing the study and developing recommendations.
In Nepal especially, persons with disabilities played a central role in gathering information from refugee women, men, and adolescents with physical, intellectual, sensory, and psychosocial impairments. To maximize data collector participation, we provided reasonable accommodations, including personal assistants, vehicles for movement, sign language interpreters, documents in Braille, diagrams in tactile ink, and a “supporter” role for data collectors who were blind. Daily debriefings further provided opportunities for collective improvement and reflection. An ongoing, interactive consent process supported the participation of persons with intellectual and psychosocial disabilities, who are so often excluded from these topics, reinforcing their marginalization.
The Women’s Refugee Commission learned much from this inclusive process, including the value of prioritizing process over outcome, capitalizing on untapped strengths, and rethinking the meaning of participation and empowerment. We hope the study offers considerations for other researchers to extend their research—on the part of the study participants and in the research process itself—to operationalize a rights-based, inclusive, and empowering approach to qualitative research.
This blog post by Mihoko Tanabe
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