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One Billion People with Disabilities Face Serious Barriers Each Day

Available in: 中文, Français, Español, العربية
  • Joint World Bank-World Health Organization report urges greater investment in services to assist the one billion people who live with disability worldwide.
  • People with disabilities experience poorer health, lower education, fewer economic opportunities and comparatively higher rates of poverty.
  • Bank projects incorporate disability components across transport, post-war reconstruction, education, health, and nutrition sectors, among others.

June 9, 2011 — At United Nations Headquarters today, the World Bank and the World Health Organization (WHO) released the first-ever World Report on Disability with new estimates that more than one billion people are living with some form of disability. The report urges governments and their development allies to invest more leadership and financing in services and programs that could unlock the potential of people with disabilities.

The report is the first comprehensive overview of global disability in 40 years and stresses that few low-income countries have enough programs and services in place to respond to the needs of people with disabilities. According to report authors, disabled people routinely encounter obstacles such as social stigma and discrimination; too little health care and few rehabilitation services; inaccessible transport, buildings, and information systems; and communication technologies.

As a result, people with disabilities experience poorer health, lower education, fewer economic opportunities and comparatively higher rates of poverty than people without disabilities.

In supporting the report, World Bank Group President Robert Zoellick noted, “Addressing the health, education, employment, and other development needs of people living with disabilities is fundamental to achieving the Millennium Development Goals. We need to help people with disabilities to gain equitable access to opportunities to participate and contribute to their communities. They have much to offer if given a fair chance to do so.”

‘Part of the Human Condition’

In low-income countries, people with disabilities are 50% more likely to experience catastrophic health expenditure than non-disabled people. Children with disabilities are less likely to start school than nondisabled children and have higher drop-out rates. In Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) countries, the employment rate of people with disabilities (44%) is slightly over half that for people without disabilities (75%).

"Disability is part of the human condition," says WHO Director-General Dr Margaret Chan, who launched the new report in New York, along with the Bank. "Almost every one of us will be permanently or temporarily disabled at some point in life. We must do more to break the barriers which segregate people with disabilities, in many cases forcing them to the margins of society."

The report recommends that governments and their development partners provide people with disabilities access to all mainstream and specialist services, and adopt a national disability strategy and plan of action. In addition, governments should work to increase public awareness and understanding of disability, and support further research and training.

Importantly, people with disabilities should be consulted and involved in the design and carrying out of these efforts, the report says.

Countries Take Diverse Approaches

Nearly 150 countries and regional organizations have signed the 2006 Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD), and 100 have ratified it, committing them to removing barriers so that people with disabilities can live in the mainstream of their own communities.  The World Report on Disability, developed with contributions from over 380 experts,is seen as a key asset for countries wanting to put the CRPD into practice.  

The report describes a number of approaches used by countries worldwide to enable people with disabilities to access services, infrastructure, information and jobs.  Examples include:

  • In Mozambique and Tanzania, training workshops with information in Braille and sign language ensure that HIV messages reach young people with disabilities;
  • In Curitiba, Brazil, an integrated public transport system improves access for people with disabilities by adopting accessible design;
  • In Vietnam, children with disabilities are able to learn in mainstream schools by revising policies, making buildings accessible, providing specialized support for individual students, and training administrators, teachers, and parents; and
  • In Malaysia, the Return to Work programme allows people with occupational injury-related disability to return to full-time work by coordinating rehabilitation services and welfare support.

Bank Looks Across Sectors

The World Bank’s Vice President for Human Development Tamar Manuelyan Atinc, who co-presented the report in New York with Dr. Chan, said, “We in the World Bank include disability in our development work in education, health, nutrition, transport, infrastructure, social safety nets, jobs and pensions, education, post-conflict, and natural disasters. These are some of the areas that are vital to address people’s disabilities in a more holistic, cross-sectoral way. As a result, we have projects with disability elements underway in most of our client countries throughout the world. We also recognize that we need to do more.”

For example, in the Bank’s China Liaoning Urban Transport project, which improves urban transport systems, public meetings and field tests were held with disabled beneficiaries to guide the design of roads. These meetings were so successful, that in one of the five participating cities, local government and disability organizations now meet yearly to evaluate progress in pedestrian transportation projects and review and guide new work.

The Bangladesh Disability and Children at Risk Project is an example of a standalone project that helps expand the coverage, use, and quality of social care services for people with disabilities and vulnerable children as a means of promoting equity and social inclusion.

In the Second Rwanda Demobilization and Reintegration Project, the Bank and the Rwandan government put special emphasis on post-war reintegration support for vulnerable beneficiary groups such as women, children, and people with severe disabilities.

Opening Access to Education, Health Care

In its work on strengthening health systems, the Bank places special emphasis on policies to improve access for the disabled to good quality health services. It also works on the prevention, care, and treatment of diseases such as diabetes and obesity, cancers, and cardiovascular diseases, which can severely affect people’s lives.

Its education work continues to address disability through the World Bank Group’s newly adopted 10-year “Learning for All” Education Strategy.

Learning for all means ensuring that all students, not just the most privileged or gifted, acquire the knowledge and skills they need to live happy and productive lives, and have the knowledge and skills that they need. This goal will require lowering the barriers that keep girls, people with disabilities, and ethno-linguistic minorities from attaining as much education as other population groups.

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