There are now more than a billion disabled people across the world, but many of the barriers they face are avoidable, according to a major new report.
The World Health Organization (WHO) and The World Bank, which have published the report, hope their findings will provide the evidence for new policies to improve the lives of disabled people and help rich and poor countries alike to implement the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.
The World Report on Disability should also force donors to take access issues into account when funding development projects.
The report aims to provide the “best available survey” of what is known about the barriers facing disabled people across the world and how to remove them and “enable disabled people to participate in mainstream services”.
Dr Tom Shakespeare, a leading British disabled academic who now works for WHO and is one of the authors and editors of the report, said it was clear there was good and bad practice spread across both high and low income countries.
But he added: “The message is absolutely that these barriers are avoidable.”
The report estimates that about 15 per cent of the world’s population are disabled, or more than a billion people – the first such estimate in 40 years. Previous WHO estimates suggested a figure of 10 per cent.
The report highlights barriers such as negative attitudes in employment, education, healthcare and social participation; inadequate funding for services, even in high income countries; lack of accessibility in the built environment, transport and information; and a failure to consult with disabled people and involve them in decision-making.
And it says that these barriers mean disabled people across the world experience poorer health; lower educational achievements; lower rates of employment; higher rates of poverty; and increased levels of isolation and dependency on others.
The report makes nine major recommendations for countries to follow, such as enabling access to all mainstream services; drawing up a national disability strategy; involving disabled people in forming policies and laws that affect them; providing adequate funding for services; and increasing public awareness of disability.
And it offers suggestions for how countries can translate these recommendations into action, such as moving disabled people out of institutions and providing support for them to live in the community, and introducing mandatory minimum standards of accessibility.
Shakespeare said he found it “terrible” and “shocking” that the report had found that disabled people were nearly three times more likely to be denied healthcare than non-disabled people.
But he said he was also excited by the many examples of good practice found across the world, in low and high income countries.
He said: “It does make a difference if you intervene in the right way to empower people and challenge negative attitudes towards disabled people.
“These are really hopeful signs that with the right intervention you can actually transform lives.”