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Global situation of people with disabilities

Global disability data and statistics
Global trends and evolutions
Links between disability and poverty
The cost of excluding people with disabilities
Why it is necessary to take disability into account in development   
What do people with disabilities want?

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Key messages

Global disability data and statistics

In the World Report on Disability, the World Health Organization and the World Bank estimate that:

Global trends and evolutions

The World Report also highlights trends and evolutions. The number of people with disabilities is increasing, partly because we live longer, and because chronic conditions such as diabetes and cardiovascular disease are increasing. Other environmental factors, such as road accidents and natural disasters, contribute to the increase of numbers in some contexts.

Disability covers a great variety of situations. The global disability situation also reveals significant inequalities, as people with disabilities are not a homogeneous group. Poor people, women, and old people are more likely to experience disability than others. While disa­bility correlates with disadvantage, not all people with disabilities are equally disadvantaged. Women with disabilities experience gender dis­crimination as well as disabling barriers. School enrolment rates also differ among impairments: children with physical impairments gener­ally fare better than those with intellectual or sensory impairments. Those most excluded from the labour market are often those with mental health difficulties or intellectual impairments. People with more severe impairments often experience greater disadvantage11.

Links between disability and poverty

The figure below highlights the close links between disability and poverty. Disability is indeed both a cause and consequence of poverty. This relationship is often described as a vicious circle, poverty leading to disability and disability worsening poverty.


Caption: This diagram represents in a circular way the negative cycle linking disability, poverty and vulnerability.
Source: DFID, Poverty, Disability and Development
, p.4.

The main links between poverty and disability are:

Therefore, poverty rates are higher for people with disabilities than for those who do not have a disability.

The cost of excluding people with disabilities

The cost of excluding people with disabilities must be considered both at the individual level and for society at large.

At the individual level: From an economic point of view, an individual experiences a doubling of the cost of disability: firstly, there are direct costs for treatment or rehabilitation, including user fees and transport costs; secondly, income is foregone—potentially both for the person with a disability and their assistants or families.

At community and family level: It is estimated that one in four has a family member with a disability. Rates of poverty are known to be higher in households with a person with a disability. Household members spend time and money taking care of their family member, who needs personal assistance and has not had access to the support services or rehabilitation that would lead to independent living.

At the global level: In 2006 the World Bank estimated the global GDP loss due to disability to be between $1.71 trillion to $2.23 trillion annually15; between 12% and 20% of the populations of developing countries were thought to be non-productive due to disability16. The Asian Development Bank maintains that while there are costs associated with including people with disabilities, these are far outweighed by the long-term financial benefits to individuals, families and society 17.

Why it is necessary to take disability into account in development

A recognition of the importance of including disability in development activities is based on many different arguments. For example:

Demographic arguments:

Argument of social development:

Economic argument:

Legal argument:

What do people with disabilities want?

Hearing directly from people with disabilities about their lives is vital to good research and effective policy or action. It is therefore essential to consult people with disabilities directly or through their representative organizations (for more information including links to video testimonials from people with disabilities, see Chapter 2, "Understanding disability").

For example, to the question “What do people with disabilities want?”, Adrienne Rubin Barhydt answers:

"Nothing special, nothing unusual. We want to be able to attend our neighbourhood school, to use the public library, to go to the movies, to get on a bus to go shopping downtown or to visit friends and family across town or across the country. We want to be able to get into our neighbourhood polling station to vote with everyone else on election day. We want to be able to get married. We want to be able to work. We want to be able to provide for our children. We want high quality, affordable medical care. We want to be seen as real people, as a part of society, not something to be hidden away, pitied or given charity." Adrienne Rubin Barhydt, April 10, 1996.

Source: www.disrights.org

1. World Report on Disability, World Health Organization and World Bank (2011), p. 28.

2. World Report on Disability, World Health Organization and World Bank (2011).

3. World Report on Disability, World Health Organization and World Bank (2011), p. 28. http://www.who.int/disabilities/world_report/2011/en/index.html.

4. World Report on Disability, World Health Organization and World Bank (2011), English version, p. 262.

5. World Report on Disability, World Health Organization and World Bank (2011), p. 27. http://www.who.int/disabilities/world_report/2011/en/index.html

6. World Report on Disability, World Health Organization and World Bank (2011),- p. 81. http://whqlibdoc.who.int/publications/2012/9789240688193_fre_full.pdf

7. The state of the world’s children 2006: excluded and invisible, New York, United Nations Children’s Fund (2005).

8. World Report on Disability, World Health Organization and World Bank (2011), Summary p. 12.

10. World Report on Disability, World Health Organization and World Bank (2011), p. 231.

11. World Report on Disability, World Health Organization and World Bank (2011), p. 286.

12. « On average, persons with disabilities and households with a disabled member experience higher rates of deprivations – including food insecurity, poor housing, lack of access to safe water and sanitation, and inadequate access to health care – and fewer assets than persons and households without a disability”, in World Report on Disability, World Health Organization and World Bank (2011), Summary version p. 12.

13. Idem.

14. Idem.

15. Disability and Development, background paper for the World Bank, Robert Metts, Banque Mondiale, 2004, p.32. http://siteresources.worldbank.org/DISABILITY/Resources/280658-1172606907476/mettsBGpaper.pdf

17. Disability Brief: Identifying and addressing the needs of disabled people, Banque Asiatique du Développement, 2005. http://www2.adb.org/Documents/Reports/Disabled-People-Development/disability-brief.pdf

18. « Disability is part of human condition. Almost everybody in the world, at one moment or another in their life, will have a temporary or permanent deficiency, and those who will reach an advanced age will meet more and more functional difficulties. World Health Report, WHO and World Bank, English version, summary p.7.

19. World Programme of Action Concerning Disabled Persons, New York, United Nations Department for Policy Co-ordination and Sustainable Development (1982), cited in Disabled People and Development, Edmonds, L. (2005). Retrieved from http://hpod.pmhclients.com/pdf/Disabled-people-and-development.pdf

20. Disability Issues, Trends and Recommendations for the World Bank, Metts, R. (2000). Retrieved from http://siteresources.worldbank.org/DISABILITY/Resources/280658-1172606907476/DisabilityIssuesMetts.pdf

21. Strengthening Disability and Development Work, Miles, S., BOND Discussion Paper (Feb. 1999).