Taking forward the motion on People with Disabilities

By Patrice Vastel

Nineteen years after I put my foot in MSF for the first time, I decided to leave the organization for a few years. Becoming more and more aware of my declining hearing, I had the idea to work for a Norwegian organization specialized in development aid for persons with disabilities. By getting involved in their projects, I got more aware of the reality of persons with disabilities and children with disabilities in developing countries.

Patrice Vastel

I got particularly aware of the high level of exclusion persons with disabilities were experiencing, often left alone, hidden, unjust targets of stigma and discrimination. The MSF values and principles, our impartiality, to focus on the most in need, the most vulnerable, the forgotten populations, suddenly got a new dimension. It became clear to me that although MSF cannot have the ambition to reach everyone, the organization - as a humanitarian actor guided by the principle of impartiality - has the duty to strive for reaching the most vulnerable groups and among these are persons with disabilities.

I am not talking about MSF having specific projects targeting persons with disabilities, but more about making sure that persons with disabilities are not unintentionally excluded from our medical services by barriers that we are not aware of. 

In my view, MSF has a duty to make sure we do not exclude the most vulnerable groups in the populations we serve. Inclusion is about asking ourselves: “who are the patients who do not reach our services?”

As an associative member of MSF, I wanted to bring back this risk of exclusion of persons with disabilities to the organization. I did this through presenting a motion on inclusion (PDF) of persons with disabilities to the Nordic general assembly of MSF in 2016, with the support of the Norwegian section. The Swedish and Norwegian associations strongly supported the motion, as did the OCB general assembly and the International General Assembly. 

Shortly after, I happened to be back in MSF, working on migration and, inquiring about the implementation of the motion, I understood that not much had really happened, which was not too surprising considering the pressure on the operations and the lack of knowledge on the issue internally. 

As I was working in the Norwegian office of MSF, we became aware of the “Transformational Investment Capacity”, a newly established committee in MSF to promote transformation of the organization to better respond to the challenges of today and tomorrow. We saw this initiative as an opportunity to “transform MSF into an organization more inclusive of persons with disabilities in its structure and action” and introduced a proposal (PDF) in that sense. This project got full support and approval by the TIC committee at the end 2017 and, early 2018 I was recruited to coordinate and launch the TIC project on inclusion of persons with disabilities in MSF.

At the point of writing, we have, in interaction with organizations of persons with disabilities and other actors, developed key and simple materials for inclusion. We also mapped a first group of persons with knowledge on inclusion and disabilities in the MSF movement to help us develop and fine-tune our materials and approach. 

Our idea was that our operations are often already under pressure and we should be seen as a support and not as an extra burden. We decided to offer a simple framework of 6 key ideas for inclusion to make a difference. Keep it Simple and Stupid (Kiss principle) is our guidance.

We developed a short compact 5 minutes video for inclusion to raise awareness and provide these 6 simple keys. This video is already a very appropriate tool to provoke discussions in the associations like in the executive.

We ran a survey in April-May 2018 among our national and international staff to get an idea of how inclusive MSF is perceived to be today by its field workers. This survey showed that about 60% of our international staff and 80% of our national staff believe they should have done more when it comes to inclusion in their last assignment. The results of the survey were presented during our first webinar in English on 26th June 2018.

We have also developed a short training and will be continuing testing it in the coming months with the idea to have it easily accessible online for our missions.

From September 2018, our portal dedicated to the inclusion of people with disabilities will allow us to centralize all information on this subject.

We will also follow some pilot trainings and projects with specific missions and promote experience sharing. We will progressively translate our materials into French to respond to a rapidly increasing demand, and of course, we do not exclude other languages in the long-run.

Finally, inclusion of persons with disabilities is an invaluable source of inspiration for MSFs current reflection on inclusion & diversity.

What more to say, except a big THANKS to all who made this project possible and do not hesitate to contact us may you wish to feed the project :) 

Patrice Vastel

Patrice Vastel is the coordinator for the international project on inclusion of persons with disabilities in MSF, which is part of the Transformational Investment capacity (TIC) portfolio. He is also the author of the 2016 motion on inclusion of persons with disabilities (PWD) in MSF. Educated as an Engineer and Anthropologist, Patrice Vastel started in MSF in 1993. He worked along more than 20 years in different missions and in the Norwegian headquarter of MSF where he was General Director in the period 2003-2011. Patrice Vastel has also worked for the Atlas Alliance, a Norwegian organization specialized in development aid for persons with disabilities. He is a trained facilitator for disability inclusion and has been providing trainings on inclusion to several Norwegian organizations. Now back in MSF, he is also a member of the Norwegian association of the hard of hearing.


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