Main findings from the dataset review

This Report examines the questionnaires of 1,288 datasets and 2,616 dataset-waves from 188 countries to identify those with functional difficulty questions. Such questions follow the UN guidelines for disability measurement in censuses and those with the WG-SS are internationally comparable and tested.

Based on this review, 22% of the datasets have functional difficulty questions, including only 11% of datasets with the WG-SS. We identified 125 countries that have at least one dataset with functional difficulty questions, including 70 countries with the WG-SS. Many of these datasets are designed to be representative of their populations at both the national and regional level.

Results show considerable heterogeneity in the collection of functional difficulty questions over time and across regions.  Global trends suggest an increase in the usage of the WG-SS in national censuses and surveys during the mid-2010s. However, the High Frequently Phone Surveys that were widely adopted during the COVID-19 pandemic did not include the WG-SS, which has driven down the share of datasets with the WG-SS during the 2020-2022 period.

Main findings from the data analysis for 15 countries

This Report analyzes data from 15 countries and produces disability statistics at national and subnational levels. The share of adults with functional difficulties is significant (above 5%) in all regions within the 15 countries under study. This suggests that persons with disabilities are geographically spread out within countries.

This Report provide a proof of concept that it is possible to produce indicators disaggregated by functional difficulty status at the regional level to document within country inequalities based on functional difficulty status using DHS for indicators using questions in the household questionnaire. For indicators based on questions administered to subsamples (employment, family planning, domestic violence), sample sizes were small at the regional level and disaggregation was not done. With census data in three countries, disaggregation was feasible for all indicators at the regional and district levels disaggregated by functional status and for subgroups based on gender, residence and age. For Guatemala, a map was also produced at the village level.

In the 15 countries under study, the multidimensional poverty headcount among persons with functional difficulties is consistently high (above 50%) at national and regional levels. Among persons with disabilities, women, older adults and people in rural areas have on average higher multidimensional poverty headcounts than men, younger adults and people in urban areas respectively.

We find a gradient in the association between multidimensional poverty and functional difficulties at national and regional levels in all countries. In other words, persons with some difficulty have higher poverty headcounts than persons with no difficulty, but lower ones than persons with at least a lot of difficulty.

For some indicators, results suggest that disability gaps are consistently experienced across and within countries. This is the case for educational attainment and multidimensional poverty.

For other indicators (e.g. water, sanitation), results on disability gaps do vary across and within countries. Within countries, national estimates can hide heterogeneity at the regional level.

Recommendations for data collection

High Frequency Phone Surveys, critical to document the situation of households during the COVID-19 pandemic, only rarely included functional difficulty questions and contributed to persons with disabilities being largely invisible. As countries come out of the pandemic while experiencing economic crises and climate emergencies, it is critical for questions on functional difficulties such as the WG-SS to be included in national surveys and population censuses to be able to monitor and understand the situation of persons with disabilities at national and local levels.

Population censuses offer unique opportunities when it comes to documenting and understanding the geospatial distribution of the inequalities persons with disabilities experience within countries. It should become standard practice for questions on functional difficulties such as the WG-SS to be included in population censuses. For some countries, there may still be time to include the WG-SS in their 2020 round census.

In some countries, more resources may be needed towards strengthening the national capacity to collect disability data through censuses.

Recommendations for data and policy analysis

We identified 125 countries that have at least one dataset with functional difficulty questions, including 70 countries with the WG-SS. Many of these datasets are designed to be representative of their populations at both the national and regional levels. Disaggregating indicators by functional difficulty status can be done at both the national and regional levels for many countries. Disaggregation at the regional level is important as national estimates may hide within country variation.

In particular, DHS and population census datasets should be used to regularly produce disability disaggregated indicators at national and regional levels perhaps in supplemental survey/census reports.  DHS and census reports so far tend to focus on prevalence rates[12]. Other data programs such as the Living Standard Measurement Study (LSMS) could also be used to produce such reports.

National governments and international organizations need to allocate more resources towards disability data analysis for national statistics offices and other relevant stakeholders to do the analysis of a growing body of data that make it possible to estimate disability disaggregated indicators at both national and subnational levels (CBM Global 2022). There is a need for initiatives to support the production of quality disability disaggregated data. The Inclusive Data Charter, which aims to mobilize political support to improve the production of quality disaggregated data to support the 2030 Agenda’s ambition of leaving no one behind is a step in this direction.

Disaggregation at the regional level makes it possible to rigorously evaluate the effects of regional policies whether these policies are mainstream or targeted at persons with disabilities.

With disability disaggregation being may make it possible at the subnational level for countries in the global south, there are research opportunities for a geographic approach to disability research. Such research can help find out the drivers of the heterogeneity of estimates within countries for some indicators for persons with disabilities and of disability gaps.  The barriers persons with disabilities face and the resources (e.g. access to assistive technology and information) they have vary across geographies and may contribute to diverse inequality and human rights outcomes within countries.

More research can also help understand the variation of the share of persons with functional difficulties within countries to find out the extent to which demographic factors (e.g. age), resources and environmental factors contribute.

Recommendations for policy

Persons with disabilities are geographically spread out within countries. Disability rights as per the CRPD need to be upheld at the local level. Local policy making in general, and in various sectors from education to disaster risk management, needs to be inclusive of persons with disabilities in all regions, districts and villages.

Across and within countries, multidimensional poverty headcounts are significantly higher for persons with functional difficulties compared to those of persons with no difficulty. This result highlights the importance for development projects, no matter where they are within a country, to be inclusive of persons with disabilities. At both national and subnational levels, persons with disabilities and their representative organizations should be included in policymaking.

[12] To our knowledge, DHS reports have focused on prevalence rates while for population censuses, some countries have produced supplementary reports on disability inequalities but such reports do not produce subnational statistics (e.g. Tonga Statistics Department 2019).