Global Disability Rates are Increasing


SEATTLE, Washington — Globally, 1 million people are living with some form of disability. From 1990 to 2017, disability rates rose 4.7 percent. The rate of increase and precursors of disability differ by country, but each fall into at least one of the following categories: mental, visual, physical and intellectual. The fact that global disability rates are increasing means that there are more people facing social, economic and accessibility barriers. These barriers include access to health care, access to rehab, support, education and employment. Worldwide, many disabled individuals do not live in an inclusive environment and struggle to maneuver the area in which they live.

What is Causing the Increase in Global Disability Rates?

Regions with a lower socioeconomic status, such as Eastern Asia and Latin America/Carribean, have higher rates of disability. In 2017, 27 percent of Eastern Asia’s population were living with some form of disability while Latin America’s disabled made up 21 percent of the region’s population.

In these low socioeconomic areas, the leading contributors to high disability rates are lower respiratory infections, diarrhea and malaria, birth defects, and neonatal disorders. In countries with a higher socioeconomic status, such as those in Europe and Central Asia, only 4 percent population lived with some form of disability in 2017. These numbers differ because of access to health care in each country. As of 2017, more than half of the world did not have access to proper health care or could not afford to go see a medical specialist. Because of this accessibility gap, about 100 million people fall below the poverty line when seeking treatment.

Conflict zones also have a high rate of disability, mostly caused by landmines. The International Committee of the Red Cross has provided prosthetic limbs and rehabilitation centers for individuals who have lost their limbs to landmine explosions across a number of African countries. 

What Effect Does Poverty have on Disability Rates?

A little over half of the world’s disabled population is without jobs, due to physical and social barriers. When disabled individuals live in poverty their conditions might worsen due to malnutrition and stress. There is also a high number of disabled people living in poverty because they do not have equal access to education.

Who is Helping?

Global disability rates are increasing, but organizations such as Humanity and Inclusion, the International Labor Organization (ILO), The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and The Red Cross are helping disabled individuals worldwide. These organizations provide support for individuals who suffer from any form of disability. The services offered include prosthetics, physical rehabilitation services, vocational training, as well as promoting inclusion in schools, workplaces and general society.

How to Improve Disability Rates

There is no sure solution to decreasing global disability rates, given the magnitude of disabilities in the world. But there are ways to help disabled people, the most effective being inclusion and accessibility. Inclusion is needed in schools, workplaces and society.

A study conducted by the World Bank shows that an individual with a disability is twice as likely to outperform their peers in their work. Even with those results, about 50 percent of disabled people are not in the workforce. When companies hire individuals with a disability, they are not only increasing their productivity, but they are also supplying individuals with life skills and providing them with an earned steady income.

Education inclusion is also important for disabled individuals. Many students with disabilities face education barriers such as discrimination, inaccessible buildings and untrained teachers. When these problems are addressed and fixed, the number of disabled students enrolled in schools will increase. The biggest steps towards this goal are social inclusion and training educators.

In societies across the globe, individuals with disabilities are seen as outliers and are excluded from many cultural and societal activities. Humanity and Inclusion is making steps towards social inclusion of individuals with disabilities in Cambodia by providing prosthetic limbs to individuals who lost theirs to landmines. The organization is also globally focusing on revitalizing social ties between disabled and non-disabled individuals, as well as accessible and inclusive sporting and concert venues. 

Global disability rates are increasing, and the number is even higher in countries with a low socioeconomic status. Although there is no clear solution on how to stop the rise, there are ways to help disabled individuals by improving inclusion and accessibility. Many global organizations are working towards these goals and helping disabled individuals receive an education and a steady income. 

– Destinee Smethers
Photo: Flickr


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