Producing national and subnational statistics on the situation of persons with disabilities is important to inform and monitor national and international laws, policies and commitments, including the United Nations (UN) Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development by national as well as local governments.
However, there is a general dearth of information on the inequalities that persons with disabilities face across and within countries. National statistics offices rarely disaggregate statistics by disability status and survey or census reports often only focus on prevalence rates. This makes it challenging to develop, and advocate for, disability-inclusive policies and practices at national and local levels and to evaluate existing policies in terms of their impacts on persons with disabilities.
This Report has two main objectives. First, it maps the availability of internationally comparable disability data by reviewing national surveys and censuses and their disability questions across world regions and over time. Secondly, it explores the potential to produce disability disaggregated indicators at both national and subnational levels with survey and census data for 15 countries. The key findings and recommendations are summarized below.
A. Dataset review
This Report examines the questionnaires of 1,288 datasets from 188 countries to identify those with functional difficulty questions (e.g. difficulty seeing, hearing). Functional difficulty questions include those that at least follow the UN guidelines for disability measurement in censuses and those that employ the internationally comparable and tested Washington Group Short Set (WG-SS) of questions.
1. About one in five of the datasets reviewed for the 2009-2022 period have functional difficulty questions.
2. 125 countries were identified as having at least one dataset with functional difficulty questions, including 70 countries with at least one dataset with the WG-SS.
3. Global trends suggest an increase in the share of datasets with the WG-SS in national censuses and surveys during the 2010s. However, in the early 2020s, High Frequency Phone Surveys rolled out by countries and international organizations during the COVID-19 pandemic did not include the WG-SS.
4. Results show considerable heterogeneity in the collection of functional difficulty questions across world regions. For instance, in Europe & Central Asia, functional difficulty questions continue to be a rarity in surveys and censuses, while in Sub-Saharan Africa their availability has markedly increased.
Recommendations for data collection
a. It should become standard practice for questions on functional difficulties such as the WG-SS to be included in national surveys and population censuses, including during emergencies such as the COVID-19 pandemic, to monitor the inequalities persons with disabilities experience and inform and monitor policies.
b. In some countries, more resources may be needed to strengthen the national capacity to collect functional disability data through surveys and censuses.
- Using Demographic and Health Survey (DHS) data for 12 countries and population census data for three countries, this report shows that it is possible to produce disability disaggregated indicators at the regional level to document within country inequalities based on functional difficulty status and for subgroups of persons with disabilities based on gender, rural/urban residence and age.
- With census data in three countries, indicators could be disaggregated based on disability and for intersectional groups (e.g. women with disabilities) at both regional and district levels.
Recommendations for data analysis
a. DHS and population censuses should be regularly used to document and understand the inequalities persons with disabilities experience as well as subgroups by gender, rural/urban residence and age at national and subnational levels.
b. Datasets that were not analyzed in this Report should be explored for their potential to produce disability disaggregated indicators at subnational levels. Many of the datasets in the 125 countries that have at least one dataset with functional difficulty questions are designed to be representative of their populations at both the national and regional level
c. National governments and international organizations need to allocate on-going resources and capacity building towards disability data analysis for national statistics offices and other relevant stakeholders to analyze a growing body of data that can produce disability disaggregated statistics at both national and subnational levels.
C. Share of adults with functional difficulties
1. The share of adults with functional difficulties within countries does vary from region to region, but is significant (above 5%) in the regions of the 15 countries under study. Persons with disabilities are geographically spread out within countries. This means that they are not absent in certain sub- national areas and highly concentrated in others.
Recommendations for policy and research
a. Disability rights as per the CRPD need to be upheld within countries in all regions, districts and villages.
b. Local policy making in general, and in various sectors from education to poverty reduction, needs to be inclusive of persons with disabilities and take account of disability inequalities across and within geographies.
c. More research is needed on the variation of the share of persons with functional difficulties within countries to find out the extent to which demographic factors (e.g. age, migration patterns, fertility), resources, and environmental factors contribute to the variation.
D. Disability Gaps
- 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.
- 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 than persons with at least a lot of difficulty.
- 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.
- 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.
5. 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 policy and research
a. Policies, programs and practices, no matter where they take place within a country, need to be inclusive of persons with disabilities.
b. At both national and subnational levels, persons with disabilities and their representative organizations should be included in policymaking.
c. More research is needed on the drivers of the heterogeneity of estimates within countries for some indicators. The barriers persons with disabilities face and the resources they have (e.g. access to assistive technology and information) vary across geographies and may contribute to diverse inequality and human rights outcomes within countries. Understanding these drivers as well as enablers of inclusion is important to inform policies to reduce disability gaps.