Breaking Barriers: Championing Disability Inclusion in Humanitarian Work

‘Pathway to WFP’ is the LinkedIn career series by the World Food Programme

Teshome Kinde ’s story stands out as a beacon of inspiration and action, working as the Disability Inclusion Focal at the World Food Programme Ethiopia Country Office. Teshome brings a unique perspective to the table, not just as a professional but as an individual who navigates the world with a disability. He has turned his own personal challenges into a formidable force for change.

Teshome's role at WFP involves weaving disability inclusion into the fabric of humanitarian action, ensuring that programmes are accessible and beneficial to all, especially those with disabilities who are often marginalized in crisis situations.

In this episode, Teshome shares his professional journey, the challenges he has faced, the projects that fill him with pride, and his advice for young professionals. His insights not only shed light on the importance of disability inclusion in humanitarian work. but also illustrate the power of representation and the impact of policies and practices that truly accommodate everyone.

Read Teshome's profound contributions to creating a more inclusive world through his work at WFP Ethiopia.

Introduce yourself! What is your role at WFP? Where do you work and where are you from?

I am Teshome Kinde Getu, an Ethiopian national working at the WFP Ethiopia Country Office as the focal person for disability inclusion. I live with a condition called Ichthyosis, a genetic skin disorder, and associated joint problems. As a champion and advocate for disability inclusion, my objective is to raise awareness about disability inclusion and facilitate the creation of genuinely inclusive programmes and disability-friendly environments that empower people without hindrance.

My key responsibilities include:

  • Collaborating with teams looking at Protection, Gender, and Accountability to Affected Populations (AAP), to ensure that disability mainstreaming is integrated throughout WFP’s programmes. Providing technical guidance that fosters an inclusive working and operational environment. This can include helping people better understand others with disabilities and appropriate language and terminology. Helping WFP and our partners build their capacity to create more disability inclusion in the humanitarian context, implement processes to identify barriers, and devise plans to eliminate them. 
  • Carrying out assessments to gauge the awareness level of persons with disabilities, contributing to the development of research and proposing innovative solutions that enhance disability inclusion across all WFP activities.

Tell us about your professional journey: how did you start your career? What is your academic and previous professional background?

My professional journey in the disability sector began during my time at Addis Ababa University. As a student union representative, I dedicated myself to addressing the issues faced by individuals with disabilities on campus. Simultaneously, I took on the role of a mentor for elementary, high school, and preparatory level students in my neighborhood, aiming to support their educational advancement and life-skills development. This involvement in educational support and community engagement further amplified my commitment to advocate for positive change.

Seeking to expand my impact, I joined the Addis Ketema sub-city youth association. Here, I served as a summer class tutor for primary and secondary school students and raised awareness about child vaccination and nutrition through social platforms including Idir and Mehaber.

Academically, I pursued a Bachelor of Arts in sociology and management and subsequently completed a Master of Arts with a study topic centered on the political participation of persons with disabilities within political parties. This study was instrumental in shedding light on the prevalent marginalization experienced by individuals with disabilities in decision-making processes.

Transitioning into the professional sphere, I sought to apply my knowledge and passion to make a tangible difference. At the Ethiopian Center for Disability Inclusion (ECDD), I was involved in the development of an Interactive Voice Response/Text Messaging service called 'MINCH,' designed to provide support and accessibility to 48,000 users with disabilities and caregivers, significantly improving their lives.

I then contributed to the Civil Society Support Program (CSSP II) funded by the British Council, a platform aimed at empowering local organizations of persons with disabilities in advocacy work while providing comprehensive Disability Inclusion Awareness and Equity Training. This experience further solidified my dedication to fostering inclusive environments and promoting equity.

Before joining my current role at WFP, I was involved in a pioneering project funded by USAID, known as the Interactive Youth Activity (IYA) or Elevation. This project was designed not only to generate employment opportunities but also to focus on capacity building and advocacy for the inclusion of youths with disabilities across various government sector offices and among other stakeholders.

Reflecting on my journey, it is marked by an unwavering commitment to disability advocacy, from grassroots community initiatives to impactful professional engagements, all driven by a profound dedication to fostering inclusivity and empowerment.
What brought you to WFP? Feel free to expand on how you joined the organization, why you decided to apply and how your experience has been so far.

WFP in Ethiopia, under the Hiring Beyond Labels initiative, introduced an approach to create a dedicated position for individuals with disabilities. This development aligned perfectly with my passion for disability inclusion and my long-standing desire to contribute to WFP’s work in addressing the challenges faced by persons with disabilities.

Ethiopia is home to over twenty million individuals with disabilities, with a staggering 95% living in poverty and struggling to access essential resources such as food. Moreover, a significant 84% reside in rural areas where WFP's outreach is paramount. It has always been my aspiration to actively support and enhance the accessibility of the crucial work being carried out in these regions.

My journey with WFP started in August 2022, and I have been actively engaged in collaborating with various units including Gender, Protection, Accountability to Affected Populations (AAP), and the Community Feedback and Response Mechanism (CFRM). My primary focus has been on empowering field officers and monitors who are intricately involved with stakeholders partnering with WFP. This has involved the development of comprehensive guideline documents and working closely with the Human Resource department to streamline the recruitment process, ensuring it is inclusive and accessible for individuals with disabilities.

Tell us about more about your work in the Ethiopia country office. (Highlight any initiatives you are leading)

I am building WFP’s collaboration and concluding formalized partnership with the local Organizations of Persons with Disabilities (OPDs) and organizations working with OPDs and person with disabilities.

I have made accessibility audit (both physical and communication) in consultation with the engineering unit; four accessibility audits have conducted in two area offices and the country office. The country office modification has been undergoing based on the recommendation of the audit and reached 95% so far.

I have also developed a guideline document to better understand disability culture (do and don’t) and other communication materials usage of proper terminologies to express persons with disabilities and the assistive device they use. I also updated the Monitoring and Evaluation (M&E) data collection tool by integrating Washington Group Question. For the first time, we anticipate obtaining actual and disaggregated data related to disability status of beneficiary’s activity by activity.
Teshome discussing with colleagues in the WFP Ethiopia country office. Photo: WFP/Filimon Mekonnen
What is your role in the humanitarian space? What is a typical day for you like?

My day to days revolves around:

  • Mainstreaming the integration of disability inclusion into various project documents, meticulously reviewing proposals to ensure genuine inclusivity. I complement this by scrutinizing monitoring documents, evaluating how issues pertaining to persons with disabilities are addressed and highlighting any limitations.
  • Meeting with colleagues and stakeholders, reporting on the progress made in mainstreaming and targeting the rights of individuals. Each meeting is a stage where I highlight our strides towards inclusion.
  • Following up with and supporting our colleagues in different Area and Sub-Offices with disability inclusion activities.  
  • Supporting WFP’s effort to create a respectful work environment by providing training for different offices, units, and subunits.
  • Providing technical expertise and support to UN agencies or the Leaving No One Behind (LNOB) Disability Inclusion working group.  

What are some of the challenges you have faced in your job and how did you overcome them?

Activity Managers, Project Officers, and Field Workers often perceive disability inclusion as an additional challenge in implementation, compounded by a misunderstanding of how to seamlessly integrate it into activities. Another hurdle arises from the misuse of derogatory terms or uncertainty about the appropriate terminology to use when referring to persons with disabilities.

However, by working together and through targeted training, we’re making significant progress to incorporate disability inclusion at every stage – from the proposal's inception to the deliberate inclusion of diverse stakeholders with various disabilities.

We have conducted various awareness training sessions and invited representatives from Organizations of Persons with Disabilities (OPDs) to share their experiences. These interactions have underscored the moral impact of our language choices and have prompted us to circulate guidelines on proper terminology usage within our local context.

What is a project you have worked on that made you particularly proud?

At higher-level meetings, we emphasized the critical importance of integrating disability inclusion with other aspects such as gender, protection, and Accountability to Affected Populations (AAP). As a result, we have updated our monitoring and evaluation tools to ensure equitable access to services and to proactively address any challenges that may arise.  

We have shifted our programmatic focus from merely saving lives to changing lives, and building resilient communities that embrace inclusivity. The Disability Inclusion team has played a pivotal role in ensuring the availability of interventions for all members of the community.

Despite challenges in recruiting fresh graduates with disabilities, as the Disability Inclusion focal person, I have provided technical support and successfully collected CVs from over 30 qualified graduates, with the assistance of university resource centres and OPDs. Additionally, we have established an official social media group on Telegram to announce job opportunities.

Furthermore, our HR department has initiated an internship program for persons with disabilities. In collaboration with the Disability Inclusion team, HR has considered providing laptops within the WFP ETCO compound to ensure equal opportunities for all applicants, recognizing the potential challenges of internet access.

As part of our initiative to foster an enabling and respectful work environment, I have conducted training sessions for Area Offices and four Sub Offices, as well as various units within the Country Office. These sessions focus on self-awareness, mutual appreciation, fairness, and building a supportive workplace culture within the humanitarian context.
What advice would you give to young professionals? Give us three main tips.

  • Continuous Learning and Adaptation: It's essential to maintain an open mind and embrace continuous learning and adaptation within one's academic capacity.  This is crucial to avoid frustration when encountering changes and remain alert to grasp new concepts while enriching your preexisting knowledge.
  • Embracing Teamwork: Supporting the concept of teamwork involves being receptive to sharing thoughts and recognizing the positive impact of collaborative work, which contributes to the successful completion of responsibilities at a higher level. Allow room for innovative ideas and effectively communicating your viewpoint in an understandable way is imperative.
  • Professionalism and Reliability: A professional individual learns from the mistakes of others and never disappoints those with higher expectations, even when faced with challenges. The honest acknowledgment of challenges and a commitment to move forward towards solutions are attributes that colleagues rely on. Respecting others' opinions and suggestions, demonstrating honesty, taking responsibility, and ensuring reliability make one a preferred collaborator.

Do you have anything to add?

When encountering individuals with disabilities, let's perceive their numerous abilities and avoid making assumptions that hinder the creation of an enabling environment.

  • Equal Opportunity and Merit-Based Hiring: Individuals with disabilities should have an equal opportunity to apply for jobs and compete on a level playing field. It's crucial to avoid perceiving their hiring as an act of charity and instead recognize it as a merit-based selection.
  • Provision of Assistance and Equity: Organizations should openly discuss and provide assistance based on the specific needs of individuals with disabilities to promote equity. It's important to prevent misconceptions of such assistance or assistive devices as additional burdens.
  • Building a Disability-Inclusive Environment: Organizations need to establish a disability-inclusive environment by addressing attitudinal barriers, ensuring physical and communication accessibility, and modifying instructional policies to accommodate individuals with disabilities.

Finally, it's important to note that promoting disability inclusion is not the responsibility of a single individual; it requires a collaborative effort to create a disability-friendly workplace and an enabling environment.

Thank you Teshome!

‘Pathway to WFP’ is the LinkedIn career series by the World Food Programme investigating the professional backgrounds and life choices that led our staff to the world’s largest humanitarian agency. Subscribe to the newsletter to receive new episodes directly in your inbox!


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Neither FIRST, its Board of Directors, Medical & Scientific Advisory Board, Board of Medical Editors, nor Foundation staff and officals endorse any treatments listed here.  All issues pertaining to the care of patients with ichthyosis should be discussed with a dermatologist experienced in the treatment of their skin disorder.

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