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Disability and Inclusive Development in Latin America & the Caribbean

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What is Disability?

Disability is the result of the interaction between people with different levels of functioning and an environment that does not take these differences into account. In other words, people with physical, sensory or mental limitations are often disabled not because of a diagnosable condition, but because they are denied access to education, labor markets, and public services. This exclusion leads to poverty and, in a vicious circle, poverty leads to more disability by increasing people’s vulnerability to malnutrition, disease, and unsafe living and working conditions.

Quick Facts about Disability in Latin America and the Caribbean

There are at least 50 million disabled people in Latin America & the Caribbean (LAC) – approximately 10% of the region’s population.

Although methods of data collection across the region vary greatly, a recent study in Brazil estimates the prevalence of disability in the country at 14.5%. The incidence is especially high in post-conflict countries and in areas of natural disasters.

Disability is an important cause and consequence of poverty. About 82% of disabled people in LAC live in poverty, which in most cases also affects family members.

Disabled people tend to experience widespread exclusion from the social, economic and political life of the community, whether due to active stigmatization or to the neglect of their needs in the design of policies, programs and facilities.

Unless disabled people are brought into the development mainstream, it will be very hard to achieve the Millennium Development Goals by 2015.

Disability: Barriers to Development

Removing barriers and enabling disabled people to contribute economically and socially can thus help reduce poverty in the whole community.


Only about 20-30% of children with disabilities are attending school in the region.

Poor attendance by disabled children derives from severe lack of adequate transportation, teacher training, equipment, furniture, learning materials, and access to school infrastructure. In addition to these visible barriers, impediments to quality inclusive education also come from attitudinal barriers.

Exclamation mark!In Honduras, people with disabilities have an illiteracy rate of 51% compared to 19% for the general population.


About 80-90% of disabled people in LAC are unemployed or outside the work force. Most of those who have jobs receive little or no monetary remuneration.

Exclamation mark!In Argentina, the unemployment rate of disabled people is estimated to be close to 91%.

Health Services

Most people with disabilities in the region lack access to health services and even physical access to health buildings. Persons with disabilities are also more likely to be rejected by health insurers. As a result, important services or devices to help disabled people are not provided. In countries for which data is available, less than 20% of disabled people receive insurance benefits.

Exclamation mark!In Ecuador, 84% of disabled people have no insurance benefits.

*Note: Country data is based on the International Disability Rights Monitor 2004 report.

World Bank and Disability in the Region

Among recent efforts to address inclusive development, the Bank is supporting research and programs that tackle disability in the region, including:


  • Programs with a "universal design" approach, such as rail- and bus-based mass transit systems in Brazil, Chile, Colombia and Peru; inclusive education projects in Uruguay and Brazil; and reconstruction of health infrastructure in El Salvador, are some examples.
  • "Sentinel" approach - a method of monitoring upcoming and ongoing projects and programs to identify opportunities for the inclusion of a disability dimension.


  • Country studies on disability and inclusive education in most of the countries in the region.
  • Thematic studies on "Youth, Employment and Disability"; "Youth at Risk, Disability and Access to Social Safety Nets"; "Disabled Youth and Sexuality;" and booklets on "Inclusive Early Childhood Development" and "Inclusive Education," among others.
  • Website content on disability in the region by country, by topic, and by sector.
  • Research component on disability in upcoming household budget surveys (e.g. Ecuador and Bolivia).

Learning and Partnerships

  • Training aimed at forming alliances for inclusive development and building bridges between the disability and development communities in the region.
  • Training manual on "Media, Disability & Inclusive Development."
  • Series of multimedia resource kits on inclusive development for use with clients and staff, which highlight regional examples of good practice (e.g. inclusive education and transport).
  • Sub-regional workshops on "Inclusive Education: Diagnosis & Future Perspectives" with governments, local NGOs, education community, and family members of people with disabilities.

Last updated: 2009-08-31

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