WHO World Report on Disability
In many respects, the World Health Organization (WHO) “World Report on Disability” confirms information that people with disabilities have known for quite a while: many of the barriers faced by people with disabilities are avoidable, and disadvantages can be overcome.
The 350-page report, released by WHO and the World Bank in June 2011, is the first of its kind, and offers a global understanding of disabilities and how to address them in various cultural settings. The report, developed with contributions from more than 380 experts, provides the first global estimates of people with disabilities in 40 years and an overview of the status of disability in the world. It also highlights key findings and makes nine recommendations on how best to address the way forward.
“Disability is part of the human condition," said WHO Director-General Dr. Margaret Chan, in a press release that accompanied the report. “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.”
Dr. Chan’s insistence echoes the language of the Developmental Disabilities Assistance and Bill of Rights Act, which states, “… disability is a natural part of the human experience …”
Prevalence of Disability
More than one billion people, or about 15 percent of the world’s population, are estimated to live with some form of disability, and the prevalence of disability is growing worldwide. In the United States, the prevalence of disability could be more than 19 percent, according to the WHO report. These individuals have diverse experiences based on their health condition, personal factors, and their environment.
Disability is a global concern—developmental disability, or physical and/or cognitive impairments in individuals under the age of 22, is equally concerning. According to the Global Burden of Disease, which is quoted in the report, an estimated 95 million children (ages 0–14) worldwide have a disability, or roughly 5 percent of the global population. Of those children, 13 million have a “severe” disability, which the Global Burden of Disease study (a study the report uses in its analysis) defines as the equivalent of someone who has blindness, Down syndrome, quadriplegia, severe depression, or active psychosis.
The report defines disability based on the “International Classification of Functioning, Disability and Health” (ICF). In the ICF, disability is an umbrella term for impairments, activity limitations, and participation restrictions. It denotes the negative aspects of the interaction between an individual (with a health condition) and that individual’s environmental and personal factors.
Barriers for Individuals with Disabilities
The WHO report identifies eight barriers that prevent individuals with disabilities from reaching their full potential as members of society:
- Inadequate policies and standards
- Negative attitudes
- Lack of provision of services
- Problems with service delivery
- Inadequate funding
- Lack of accessibility
- Lack of consultation and involvement
- Lack of data and evidence
The WHO report outlines the following nine recommendations:
- Enable access to all mainstream policies, systems, and services.
- Invest in specific programs and services for people with disabilities.
- Adopt a national disability strategy and plan of action.
- Involve people with disabilities.
- Improve human resource capacity.
- Provide adequate funding and improve affordability.
- Increase public awareness and understanding of disability.
- Improve disability data collection.
- Strengthen and support research on disability.
The Importance of Self-Advocacy
The fourth recommendation in the report, “Involve people with disabilities,” is one of the most significant recommendations.
The report contends, “At an individual level, persons with disabilities are entitled to control over their lives and therefore need to be consulted on issues that concern them directly—whether in health, education, rehabilitation or community living.”
Self-advocacy is one of the most crucial ways individuals with developmental disabilities will truly become fully integrated, independent, and self-sufficient members of their communities. The WHO report emphasizes the importance of supporting organizations for individuals with disabilities and building capacity for them to speak out for their needs.
AIDD and its grantees work each day to address priorities in line with each of the recommendations made by WHO in this report. Through the national Developmental Disabilities Network, technical assistance, and interagency collaboration, AIDD and its grantees are making strides to remove the identified barriers for individuals with developmental disabilities.
Visit WHO’s World Report on Disability page to access a PDF version of the report, watch installments from the “What's disability to me” video series, and find other related materials.