Remembering Kalle Könkkölä

The global disability community lost a leader this week, when Kalle Könkkölä passed away in his native Finland on September 10. Könkkölä is well known globally as a founder of the independent living movement for persons with disabilities. As a member of Parliament in Finland, he campaigned hard for the rights of people with disabilities in that country.

Könkkölä was tireless in his advocacy. He pushed equally hard for all organizations working in humanitarian relief and development, including HI, to hire more people with disabilities, and to ensure that all their programming—especially in emergencies—is inclusive of this too-often marginalized group.

He continued to advocate forcefully and clearly through this year. For example, after his late 2017 journey to a Ugandan refugee camp at Bidibidi, he wrote a summary of what he saw—serious shortcomings in the way refugees with disabilities were treated. In the report, he noted for example that given the disabled population of 28,000 at the camp, it was somewhat surprising that no one had overall responsibility for making sure humanitarian interventions by NGOs were inclusive. As a result, many disabled refugees could not access the education programs taking place. He also identified difficulties faced by the refugees in using the water and sanitary facilities provided. Although the refugee camp he visited was not one where HI teams are present, his recommendations were useful to HI staff working elsewhere in the country. 

“I was saddened to learn of Kalle Könkkölä’s death this week, says Jeff Meer, U.S. Executive Director of Humanity & Inclusion. “I met with him several times over the years, and he is truly one of the most unforgettable individuals I have come across. His legacy of activism on the inclusion of people with disabilities in humanitarian action will continue to drive me personally, and HI, an organization working to improve our interventions in difficult settings, “ Meer says. “The best way we can honor his memory is by living the values embodied in the Humanitarian Disability Charter, by improving our inclusion of people with disabilities in the planning and executing our interventions, and by hiring more people with disabilities, both at headquarters and in HI’s field programs.”