1 Billion People Are Living With Disabilities

New Study Shows Many of World's Disabled Face Problems Getting Adequate Health Care

Medically Reviewed by Laura J. Martin, MD on June 09, 2011
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June 9, 2011 -- More than 1 billion people in the world are living with some form of disability, and governments everywhere need to beef up efforts to help them, according to a new report.

The report by the World Health Organization and the World Bank says almost 20% of people with disabilities, an estimated 110 million to190 million people, face significant problems that result in health, educational, and other difficulties.

Few countries have adequate mechanisms in place to respond to the needs of these people, who often are victims of stigma and discrimination. Many people with disabilities are poor and have fewer opportunities to improve their financial situations.

"Disability is part of the human condition," Margaret Chan, director-general of the WHO, says in a news release. "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."

Health Care Challenges

Robert B. Zoellick, president of the World Bank Group, says governments around the globe need to take steps to help people with disabilities "gain equitable access to opportunities to participate and contribute to their communities."

Among the key findings of the report:

  • People with disabilities are more than twice as likely to have health care providers who lack the skills to meet their needs.
  • People with disabilities are almost three times more likely to report being denied health care they need compared to non-disabled people.
  • In low-income countries, people with disabilities are 50% more likely than non-disabled people to experience catastrophic health care expenditures.
  • Children with disabilities are less likely to start school than non-disabled kids. Also, fewer disabled children stay in school than kids who do not live with disabilities.
  • In certain countries the employment rate of people with disabilities is significantly less than people without disabilities.

The report recommends that governments provide people with disabilities access to all mainstream services, invest in specific programs and services for those in need, and adopt national strategies and action plans to assist those with disabilities.

And people with disabilities should be consulted in designing and implementing these efforts, the report says. It lists a number of examples in which countries have taken action to help disabled populations. In Vietnam, for example, children with disabilities are able to attend mainstream schools because of government steps to help them, including specialized support and training and specially trained teachers.

In Uganda, the government has taken steps to raise awareness that children with clubfoot can be helped and has trained people to meet the specific needs of the young people, such as by improving foot orthotics.

Removing Barriers

"We have a moral duty to remove the barriers to participation for people with disabilities, and to invest sufficient funding and expertise to unlock their vast potential," says Stephen Hawking, the world-renowned physicist who is himself disabled. "It is my hope this century will mark a turning point for inclusion of people with disabilities in the lives of their societies."

The World Report on Disability, developed with contributions from more than 380 experts, is intended as a key resource in helping countries implement the international Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which has been endorsed by 150 countries and regional organizations.

The report reflects data from 69 countries. According to the report, employers in all countries should:

  • Hire people with disabilities and make "reasonable" accommodations to help them.
  • Set up disability management programs to help people who become disabled return to work.
  • Make sure human resources personnel and corporate supervisors are made aware of rules aimed at reducing discrimination of people with disabilities.

Show Sources


News release, World Health Organization, The World Bank.

World Report on Disability, 2011.

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