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Youthink! Issues - Disability

When a person's physical or mental condition keeps him or her from functioning as most people do
© The World Bank

What is it?

A disability can be physical (such as paralysis, loss of limb, deafness), mental (such as depression or post-traumatic stress disorder) or intellectual (such as a learning disability). Some people are born disabled; others become disabled as a result of an accident or disease. Disabilities range from moderate to significant and can be temporary or permanent. With the help of a supportive community, education and vocational opportunities, disabled persons can make progress.

Here are some statistics:

  • 650 million people in the world are disabled, according to the World Health Organization.
  • 80% of disabled people live in developing countries.
  • 20% of the world’s poorest people are disabled, and tend to be regarded in their own communities as the most disadvantaged.
  • 1 in every 10 children around the world copes with a disability.
  • Only 2-3% of disabled children in poor countries go to school.

These numbers are gravely underestimated because disabled people are typically shunned, isolated and stigmatized by their community, so they are often left out of census reports. Families often hide disabled children and exclude them from family and community activities.

Why should I care?

Disability leads to poverty

When persons with a disability are kept from attending school or finding work, they tend to be the poorest among the poor because they don't acquire any skills.

Many people in developing countries think that children with disabilities can't learn or develop skills, so not much is expected from them. In turn, they don't contribute to their communities but are considered to be a burden.

But poverty contributes to disability

Poor people are at greater risk of becoming disabled. They also have fewer chances to overcome their disabilities. This increases the odds that they and their families will remain poor.

Children can be born disabled …

Some children are born disabled because their mothers didn't receive prenatal care or had a hard time giving birth. Or they are born disabled for no clear reason.

Or become disabled …

Children can become disabled during childhood if they are malnourished, exposed to preventable childhood diseases such as polio, or have an accident.

Countries coming out of war have many physically disabled people who were injured during conflict. If these people, especially men, suddenly find themselves unable to work and provide for their families, they may become poorer.

People living in areas prone to conflict or natural hazards (such as hurricanes and droughts) disproportionally suffer from post-traumatic-stress disorder, depression and anxiety.

What is the international community doing?

Demystifying disability in developing countries

Dealing with disability is much more than a health issue. The idea of who is disabled comes from people's cultures. For example, if a deaf child is taught to read lips and lives with people who speak in sign language, the child is not necessarily disabled and can contribute to society.

Incorporating people with disability into society

People with disabilities should be helped to become productive members of society because this will improve the welfare and well being of the entire community. Sometimes solutions are relatively simple, such as providing reading glasses to children, giving wheelchairs to those in need or constructing wheelchair accessible buildings.

Preventing disabilities

In addition to helping people with disabilities, international organizations like UNICEF, WHO and the World Bank work on:

  • Improving health care in poor countries to help pregnant women and children get proper medical care.
  • Enabling disabled children to go to school and learn livelihood skills.
  • Removing landmines from fields to make sure people don't step on them.

The World Bank has helped establish the Global Partnership for Disability and Development, an organization aimed at coordinating activities among donor countries, development agencies, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), and client governments.

What can I do?

Visit these websites to learn more about disability:

For more information: Disability

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