More than 1 billion live with disability

One in seven people around the world live with a physical or mental disability.

The World Health Organization and World Bank released a World Report on Disability in June which marked the first attempt in 50 years to count those with disabilities around the world. The result found more than 1 billion people including almost 100 million children who met the criteria for physical or mental disability.

Of that 1 billion, roughly 200 million experience significant difficulties as a result.

Just on their own, those numbers sound high. Although we know disability is part of the human experience, it can be easy not to think about it – especially when often it seems like it affects someone else. In reality, almost everyone will experience temporary or permanent disability at some point in life and with an aging population, the numbers are climbing.

According to the report, roughly 2/3 of disabilities occur as a result of non-communicable disease such as cardiovascular disease or cancer. About nine percent occur from infectious disease like polio or the measles and another nine percent are the result of accidental injury. Disability is more common among women, older people and households that are poor.

Of course, counting and classifying the disabled was not the only purpose of this 350 page report. The document sets out to give global guidance and recommendations for identifying and addressing obstacles facing those with disabilities.

Individuals living with disabilities must overcome many barriers and discrimination simply to function on a daily basis participating in society.

Not surprisingly, life is far more difficult for the disabled in poorer countries – but worldwide 30 percent of those living with disabilities experience huge health expenses which often force them into a life of poverty.

Few countries have adequate mechanisms in place to address the many barriers faced by those with disabilities. Stigma, discrimination, poor access to buildings, transportation and information/communication technologies as well as lack of appropriate health and rehab services are serious issues inhibiting the function of many disabled people around the world.

As a result of these issues, those living with disabilities experience generally poorer health, lower educational achievements, fewer economic opportunities and higher rates of poverty than those without disability.

In many cases, these barriers to participation and integration in society are avoidable. The report makes several recommendations to help including: enabling access to all mainstream services; investing in programs and services for the disabled; national disability strategies; involving those affected in the policy and program process; increasing public awareness; and continuing research.

We have a moral duty to work toward removing barriers and helping to create a more inclusive society in which those living with mental and physical disabilities are able to participate fully.

To read the report, find it online at:


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