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Frequently Asked Questions

Q: How do you define disability?

Disability is not easily conceptualized and it cannot be defined in any exhaustive way; it is influenced by differing cultures, social institutions, and physical environments. An individual with limited mobility could be at a great disadvantage in an agricultural subsistence farming society yet if that same person lived in a society with advanced services, supports and technology, he/she might encounter only few challenges. The current international guide to defining what is meant by disability is the World Health Organization's discussion and classification within ICF: International Classification of Functioning, Disability and HealthLink to external site. The new version after revised is known as the ICFDH-2. The ICFDH-2 presents a framework which encompasses the complex multifaceted interaction between health conditions and personal and environmental factors that determine the extent of disablement in any given situation. Disability is caused by a wide range of interacting aspects like communicable diseases, genetic factors, injuries, aging and many more. Each disability has its own range of possible causes; the list of disabilities itself is very lengthy, including physical disabilities, cognitive disabilities, vision and hearing difficulties, and mental health disorders, such as depression.

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Q: Why engage in disability and development at the World Bank?

The overarching goal of the World Bank is poverty alleviation. This objective is the core of the World Bank’s work. To alleviate poverty, economic development programs and policies must embrace the entire population, including vulnerable groups like those with disabilities. Without integrating the disabled population, economic development efforts can not be effective since disabled people face a higher risk of poverty and poor people experience a much heightened rate of disabilities. The commitment to the Millennium Development Goals shared by the international community needs to include a commitment to disabled people. Excluding disabled people from the development agenda would undermine meeting the overall goal of achieving the Millennium Development Goals.

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Q: How many disabled people are there world-wide?

Reported disability prevalence rates vary widely. In many developed countries, the rates are quite high. The prevalence rates in The United States and Canada are 19.4% and 18.5%, respectively. Conversely, developing countries often report very low rates. In countries such as Kenya and Bangladesh the reported rates of disability are under 1%. These rates vary for a number of reasons: differing definitions of disability, different measurement methodologies, and variance in the quality of that measurement.
The UN created the Washington Group on Disability StatisticsLink to external siteto generate an approach to measuring prevalence in an internationally comparable way that is well-founded in recent thinking on defining disability. The census questions they endorsed attempt to measure that portion of the population that has a limitation in a basic core activity of daily living, such as walking or seeing.
This functional approach has been tested and implemented in many countries, and generates a narrower range of prevalence estimates (e.g., Brazil 14.5%, Zambia 13.1%, Nicaragua 10.3%). Overall, a worldwide estimate of about a 10-12% rate of disability seems reasonable. Unfortunately, though, quality data from enough countries is not yet available to make a definitive estimate.
It is extremely important, however, to keep in mind that disabilities range from severe to moderate to mild. It is therefore much more useful to present information on the range of disabilities instead of reporting a single prevalence rate. For example, the overall disability rate in Ecuador was measured at about 12%, but the rate of severe disabilities was about 4%.
See also: Region at a glance in Latin America and the Caribbean

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Q: What is the main goal for disability and development

The main goal is divided into three steps: increasing awareness, reducing preventable disabilities, and most important, integrating persons with disabilities into the social and economic life of their communities. Disability needs to be placed as an issue along others on the development agenda, and programs aimed at decreasing malnutrition, promoting maternal health, and promoting safe living and working conditions must be developed. However, even with widespread prevention programs there will always be persons with disabilities in the world, starting with the substantial disabled population that already exists. Efforts of inclusion are needed to remove all barriers preventing persons with disabilities from full participation in all areas of a community. In the end no distinction should be made between a disabled person’s and non-disabled person’s freedom to participate in every facet of life – social, economic, and political.

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Q: What is Universal Design?

Universal Design or the creation of barrier free environments is a very simple idea: all buildings, products and services should be designed in such a way that the number of potential users is optimized. The need for specialized design or adaptations must be minimized and one simple design that can meet the needs of people of all ages, sizes and abilities equally should be made prevalent.

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Q: Terminology or 'How do I refer to you'?

The World Bank supports disabled people developing their own language, and recommends asking individuals with disabilities for his/her preference. For ease of understanding and to acknowledge multiple viewpoints on this site, both terms 'persons with disabilities' and 'disabled people' are used, which is the most common terminology in the English language. Some prefer the term 'persons with disabilities' to emphasize the person first and the disability as secondary, while others promote the term 'disabled people' to emphasize the role society has in their disability. The World Bank will do its best to promote appropriate terminology in other languages on this site.

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Last updated: 2009-11-19




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