SCRANTON, Pennsylvania — Disability has long been described as “both a cause and consequence of poverty,” according to TalkPoverty. People living in poverty can develop disabilities due to a lack of health care and are more likely to live in environments that create poor health conditions. A 2000 report by the British government’s Department for International Development noted that as many as half of all disabilities are not only preventable but are also linked to poverty. Disabled people living in poverty face a variety of setbacks, including economic and health care obstacles.
Poverty, disability, or a combination of both, exacerbate economic and financial hardships. Poverty results from multiple contributing factors, one of which may be a lack of steady employment. Some people with disabilities are unable to work, or unable to work consistently, resulting in financial distress.
According to the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs’ Disability Division, more than 300 million working-age individuals “have some kind of disability.” Additionally, in some nations, the unemployment rate for disabled people reaches 80%.
For example, in India, although 70 million people have disabilities, only 100,000 have jobs, an example of the difficulty sustaining employment for people with disabilities in developing countries.
More Funding for Social Welfare Programs
In an interview with The Borgen Project, Dr. Susan Parish, Dean of the College of Health Professions at Virginia Commonwealth University, highlighted the need for an increase in funding to social welfare programs for people with disabilities, not just in the U.S. but across the world.
“I think that in the U.S., we have these tools, which could serve as a much more effective safety net for people with disabilities and these safety net programs could do a much better job of supporting people with disabilities. But in most cases across the board, these programs are not sufficient. And the amount of money, for example, that’s provided by the income transfers, is so meager that it doesn’t even bring a family out of poverty if your income is below the federal poverty level,” Parish says.
A cross-sectional study by the National Institute of Health showed a positive correlation between disability and poverty in low- and middle-income countries. Additionally, the study showed that the highest association between disability and poverty was among working-age adults, with 86% of studies published between 1990 and 2016 reaching that conclusion.
Improving Accessibility and Inclusion
Accessibility for disabled people living in poverty has become more of a global focus in recent years. The first Global Disability Summit took place in 2018 in London. The summit concluded with more than 900 commitments from attendees centered around themes of accessibility, disability and poverty as well as overlapping issues like gender equality and economic stability.
The World Bank curated 10 commitments on accessibility for disabled people after the summit, which it reaffirmed in 2022. The commitments are:
- Establishing access to inclusive education for all “World Bank-financed education projects” by 2025.
- “World Bank-financed digital development projects” must be inclusive and accessible for all.
- Collecting data on disability to inform policy decisions.
- Assessing data on women and girls with disabilities to better provide for their needs.
- Ensuring disaster reconstruction projects are inclusive of disability standards.
- Including accessible transportation in World Bank-funded mobility projects.
- Holding International Finance Corporation (IFC) projects accountable for disability inclusivity in the private sector.
- Guaranteeing that “75% of World Bank-financed social protection projects are disability-inclusive by 2025.”
- Creating a more diverse and inclusive workforce by employing people with disabilities.
- “Promoting the updated Disability Inclusion and Accountability Framework among World Bank staff.”
The IDA’s Inclusive Projects
On its website, the International Development Association (IDA), which the World Bank Group runs, highlights the various IDA-sponsored programs that emphasize disability inclusivity for people living in poverty.
Such success stories are visible in Nigeria where several IDA projects center around disability inclusion. Both the Ibadan Urban Flood Management Project and the Agro-Processing, Productivity Enhancement and Livelihood Improvement Support Project worked to ensure that flood warning systems and agricultural career training accounted for the needs of disabled people.
Expanding accessibility for disabled people living in poverty is a collective effort. The onus is not just on disabled individuals, their families or caretakers, the government or able-bodied people. With concerted efforts to improve living conditions through policy and social welfare programs, disabled people will have more opportunities to rise out of poverty and live their fullest lives.
– Emma Rushworth