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WHO Releases Global Disability Report

Wednesday, June 29th, 2011

Children around the world smilingA new disability study by the World Health Organization and the World Bank says the issue of disability is “complex, dynamic, multidimensional, and contested” around the world, even as its numbers continue to rise. In the first-ever research of its kind, the World Report on Disability says more than a billion people are estimated to live with some form of disability, or about 15% of the world’s population, up from 10% of the population recorded by WHO in the 1970s.

Today, disability encompasses more than just the stereotypical view that “emphasize wheelchair users and a few other classic groups such as blind people and deaf people.” People with disabilities include the child born with a congenital condition such as cerebral palsy, or the young soldier who loses his leg to a land mine, or the middle-aged woman with severe arthritis, or the older person with dementia, among many others, the report says. And their health conditions can be visible or invisible; temporary or long term; static, episodic, or degenerating; painful or inconsequential.

The June 2011 report depicts the situation of people with disabilities around the world and touches on areas such as health, environment, education; and employment. Some interesting findings:

- Childhood disability (0–14 years) is estimated to be 95 million (5.1%) children, of which 13 million (0.7%) have a “severe disability.”

- Global aging especially in wealthier countries has a major influence on disability trends because older people tend to live longer.

- People with disabilities and their families have excessive out-of-pocket expenses such as for health care services, assistive devices, and transportation. In the U.K., cost estimates range from 11% to 69% of income.

- Women with disabilities around the world experience gender discrimination as well as disabling barriers and may be less likely to marry than non-disabled women.

While the report makes wide-sweeping recommendations for global governments and organizations, such as developing a national disability strategy, better research, working to improve public perception and requiring relevant training on disability issues, WHO also gives some pointers to the private sector, which is refreshing to read. For corporations, WHO recommends:

- Promoting diversity and inclusion in work.

- Facilitating the employment of persons with disabilities, ensuring that recruitment is equitable, that reasonable accommodations are provided, and that employees who become disabled are supported to return to work.

- Removing barriers of access to microfinance, so that persons with disabilities can develop their own businesses.

- Ensuring information communication and technology (ICT) products, systems, and services are accessible to persons with disabilities.

WHO and World Bank write that people with disabilities have diverse personal factors with differences in race, ethnicity, gender, age, and sexuality. Each has his or her personal preferences and responses to disability. Though this group is diverse, know they share a common link: Facing adversity and learning how to adapt to, and surmount, the barriers that stand in their way of full economic and social participation.