Organisations of Persons with Disabilities: Making a Difference in Vanuatu and Solomon Islands

Consensus is building on the need for greater participation of organisations of persons with disabilities (OPDs) in disaster response and preparedness. Yet, the lack of practical guidelines and information on maximising OPDs’ engagement and impact motivated CBM Global IAG to commission this study.

The report ‘Organisations of Persons with Disabilities: Making a Difference in Vanuatu and Solomon Islands’ draws on two comparative case studies in Vanuatu and Solomon Islands, as well as an extensive desk review of documents. It explores the roles and impact of OPDs in each country and identifies key challenges and enablers constraining and supporting OPDs’ contributions to the disaster preparedness and response sector. 

"Disability-inclusive research aims to ensure people with disabilities have the same opportunities as individuals without disabilities to contribute to, participate in, and benefit from development research." - ‘Research for All: Making Research Inclusive of People with Disabilities’ - CBM Australia et al.

Country contexts

Solomon Islands and Vanuatu are regularly exposed to natural hazards and disasters, which are predicted to become more frequent and intense in a warming climate.  Vanuatu is currently the world’s most at-risk country for natural hazards, and the Solomon Islands are close behind, ranked the fifth most at-risk country, according to the 2021 World Risk Report. 

Research questions

The study sought to answer the following four research questions:

  • In what ways are OPDs being engaged and making a difference as disaster pre­paredness and response actors in Vanuatu and the Solomon Islands?
  • What factors influenced successful engagement with a variety of OPDs in disaster preparedness and response in both countries?
  • To what extent does the engagement of OPDs in both countries contribute to strengthening localisation?
  • To what extent are differences in engagement with OPDs in Vanuatu and Solomon Islands yielding different outcomes?


Investigation of these research questions led to the identification of five main findings and associated contextual information presented in this report.


OPDs in both countries contribute to lowering multiple barriers to inclusion for people with disabilities via their advocacy work, technical support to humanitarian and government actors, service provision and relaying of information directly to and from communities. They are also live examples of the positive contributions that people with disabilities can bring to societies, challenging stigma and raising awareness via their engagement with multiple actors. Positive outcomes have been especially facilitated by the Vanuatu Disability Promotion & Advocacy Association’s extensive network of OPDs in Vanuatu, reaching all provinces of the country. In Solomon Islands, People with Disabilities Solomon Islands’ active role as a technical advisor to Australian Humanitarian Partnership partners is also contributing to these actors adopting more inclusive practices.

Change from OPDs’ actions is expected at various levels, but ultimately aims to benefit people with disabilities and their families. However, this is the most difficult outcome for which to collect evidence. The lack of systematic data collection to understand and monitor the impact of OPDs and other actors for diverse people with disabilities is problematic not only from an accountability point of view, but in terms of the ability of actors to improve practices and promote change over time.

OPDs define themselves as primarily advocates of the rights of people with disabilities. In both country contexts, OPDs are stretching their capacity to play other roles as implementers and technical advisers, with the risk of diverting them away from their original mandate. Each role requires specific skill sets and capacities, and whilst the demand on OPDs has increased, resources and support to enable their contributions and participation remain inadequate.

Equal partnership practices that address attitudinal barriers and support the capacity of OPDs to participate in decision-making are strong enablers of OPDs’ engagement and contribution to the disaster risk reduction (DRR) sector and beyond. The present study identified four positive practices in place or in the process of being implemented across Solomon Islands and Vanuatu. These practices were found to support OPDs’ meaningful participation and engagement but are adopted by a minority of OPDs’ partners, including international NGOs and government actors. They are:

  1. Establishment of long-term flexible partnerships
  2. Partners having an in-house inclusion specialist or focal point to progress main­streaming
  3. Provision of targeted capacity-building and technical support
  4. Ensuring inclusive practices and reasonable accommodations when interacting with OPDs.

The role of international partners in supporting the capacity and strategic development of OPDs in line with OPDs’ own strategic plans is central to localisation (the empowerment of local actors to lead and contribute to development in the long term). The tension between competing priorities – OPDs having to choose between serving their own objectives as advocates and supporting their partners’ objectives – can be overcome if these objectives and priorities align. The present study identified the top two priorities for advancing OPDs’ work in disaster response and preparedness, and invites other humanitarian actors to consider areas that they would be willing to support in line with OPD’s own priorities.

“Despite people with disabilities being more likely to have taken their own action to prepare for disasters compared to people without disabilities, they were more likely to be excluded from participation in community DRR activities.” - 'Our Lessons’ Research Report


This is a summary of recommendations provided in the report:

For OPDs For partners
Define and measure success: Define success against strategic objectives and determine the resources required to support their priorities. This could include positive changes in specific sectors or areas (including DRR). Ensure mainstreaming of inclusion practices: Ensure that in-house technical resources are available (or built over time) to support mainstreaming across programs and coordinate strategic and meaningful engagement with OPDs.
Prioritise strategic partnerships: Review existing partnerships and develop new strategic partnerships that are long-term and directly support organisational strategies. Support and adequately resource long term partnerships with OPDs: Ensure that partnerships with OPDs align with OPDs’ own priorities, supporting local actors’ leadership and long-term capacity.
Strengthen collection and use of impact data: Work with partners to develop measurement tools that capture outcomes/impact for people with diverse disabilities. Strengthen data collection and use of impact data: Work with partners to develop measurement tools that capture outcomes/ impact for people with diverse disabilities.
Socialise role of OPDs: Actively, intentionally and widely socialise the role of OPDs with all stakeholders in disaster management. Support participation in decision-making: Promote systematic engagement of OPDs in all phases of decision-making through 1) timely and appropriate communication, 2) ensuring accessibility of information and events, 3) appropriate resourcing for reasonable accommodations, and 4) facilitating OPDs to participate in relevant forums.


It is testament to OPDs’ success that they have become sought-after partners for international agencies in the Pacific, as seen in the Solomon Islands and Vanuatu. This is allowing them to make valuable contributions as self-advocates, technical advisors and implementers.

However, for these roles and the work of OPDs to be sustainable they must be strategically conceived and properly resourced. As part of this, it is vital that international partners such as the AHP agencies recognise that the DRR activities in which they collaborate with OPDs are only one part of those organisations’ larger roles in lowering barriers facing people with disabilities and supporting them to thrive. Recognising this reality is important for two reasons. First, because that will allow partners to acknowledge OPDs’ own visions and strategic objectives and develop ways of supporting them in line with localisation principles. Second, because the wider goal of advocating for the rights of people with disabilities in their diversity is tied to supporting those same groups in times of disaster.

Long-term flexible partnership practices can eliminate attitudinal barriers and support the capacity of OPDs to lead advocacy and promote inclusion beyond the timeframe of specific programs. These practices must include the provision of sufficient financial and technical support for OPDs to operate in line with their own objectives and where the priorities of OPDs and partners align. Walking alongside OPDs also requires partners securing in-house capacity to capitalise on such partnerships and apply better inclusion practices when interacting with OPDs.

This study has highlighted the need for more detailed and systematic M&E on the roles and impacts of OPDs and of activities to promote disability inclusion during disaster preparedness and response. At present, not enough is known about what really makes a difference to the experiences of the wide range of people with disabilities, including how intersectionality shapes experiences and outcomes. This is preventing actors in the sector and more widely (such as service providers or governments) from learning and improving their programs over time. While the present study makes a contribution to this area, the lack of proper reporting to draw on and the limitations of scope prevented the kind of analysis that is required in this area. Numerous other studies have made similar points about the need for stronger M&E and improved accountability. Agencies need to take action.

While research in the Solomon Islands and Vanuatu highlighted shared patterns, especially their stretched capacity to play multiple roles and the challenges of resourcing them, the comparison between the two can also be used to inform future practice. Exchanges on PWDSI’s lessons learnt after a few years of dedicating its DRR officer’s time to supporting AHP partners with technical advice, and PWDSI’s plans to strengthen its organisational governance systems, would likely benefit VDPA. Conversely, VDPA’s experience in mobilising networks of people with disabilities across the country for advocacy and other purposes should inspire PWDSI.