World Bank, Partners Call for Global Cooperation to "Unlock"
Opportunities for Millions of People with Disabilities
As the world celebrated this year's UN "International Day of Disabled
Persons" on December 3rd, a two-day conference looked at ways to
include the needs of people with disabilities in the fight against poverty.
As part of the international efforts to fight poverty through more inclusive
development policies, on December 2, 2004, in Washington DC, the World
Bank and its partners called for strengthening global cooperation and
partnerships to "Unlock" opportunities for the more than 600
million people with disabilities worldwide, of whom 400 million live
in developing countries.
At the two-day conference, held at the World Bank's headquarters and
titled "Disability and Inclusive Development: Sharing, Learning
and Building Alliances", representatives from diverse organizations
and countries took stock of what has been accomplished in the field
of disability—particularly its inclusion into development operations—over
the past two years, when the Bank held its first international conference
on disability issues.
"We need to unlock the opportunities for 600 million people or
more who have one form of disability or another, but who have with these
disabilities tremendous competencies," World Bank President James
Wolfensohn said in his opening remarks to a packed room at Preston Auditorium.
About 600 participants—many with disabilities—exchanged
experiences and information through panel discussions and 11 break-out
sessions covering a variety of topics such as inclusive education, access
to health services, employment of disabled people, urban infrastructure
and transport, the legal dimension of inclusive development, and others.
Among the participants were public and private sector executives, development
practitioners, academics, civil society and media representatives from
developed and developing countries.
"The World Bank considers it crucial that countries adopt development
policies that include the concerns and needs of disabled people so that
they can contribute to the societies in which they live," said
Wolfensohn. "In fact, if we are to achieve the Millennium Development
Goals of halving poverty by 2015, dealing with education for all, halving
the rates of birth and child mortality, it is simply impossible to conceive
of doing that without the inclusion of the disabled community."
According to Bank research, disability is affecting countries in different
In Uganda, for example, households headed by a person with a disability
are 38 percent more likely to be poor. In Serbia, the poverty rate of
disabled people is 70 percent. In Honduras, people with disabilities
have an illiteracy rate of 51 percent compared to 19 percent for the
general population. In the United States, there is almost a 70 percent
rate of unemployment among disabled people. And in some parts of the
world, as many as 80 percent of disabled children die before the age
of 5, even in areas where the overall child mortality rate has been
brought down to under 20 percent.
In a keynote address, Dr. Amartya Sen, Lamont Professor at Harvard University
and 1998 Nobel Laureate in economic science, noted that social intervention
against disability had to include prevention as well as management and
alleviation. "An understanding of the moral and political demands
of disability is important not only because it is such a widespread
and impairing feature of humanity, but also because the tragic consequences
of disability can be substantially overcome with determined societal
help and imaginative intervention," Sen said. "Given what
can be achieved through intelligent and humane intervention, it is amazing
how inactive and smug most societies are about the prevalence of the
unshared burden of disability."
Dr. Catherine Le Gales-Camus, Assistant Secretary of the World Health
Organization (WHO), spoke on the effect of HIV/AIDS on women, girls
and disabled persons. "Poverty, HIV/AIDS, and people with disabilities
are linked in a dangerous spiral," she said. "We are deeply
concerned that among all people with disabilities, women and children
suffer the most." She also noted that a recent Global Survey on
HIV/AIDS and Disability released from the World Bank found that people
with disabilities have a two- to three-times higher risk of acquiring
HIV/AIDS due to widespread abuse and that lack of information for the
visual and hearing impaired is a factor. She added that "the HIV/AIDS
Department of WHO is now coordinating its efforts with the disability
and rehabilitation team to guarantee that information on HIV/AIDS will
be, and can be, available to everyone."
UN Ambassador Luis Gallegos, chairman of the ad-hoc committee on the
Convention for the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, said that people
with disabilities were prominent leaders in the process of creating
this new international human rights instrument. "They are enriching
every aspect of the discourse on the Convention, thereby contributing
to promoting the human rights of all persons," he said.
U.S. Senator Tom Harkin, Iowa, said that one of the biggest challenges
facing the disabled community was changing people's attitudes and expectations
with regards to persons with disabilities. Harkin, who was one of the
forces behind the Americans with Disabilities Act signed into law 15
years ago, noted that the international community needed to work toward
three main goals: access, inclusion and awareness of the rights of disabled
people on a global scale. "Unfortunately, the barriers that people
with disabilities face here in America, the barriers of isolation, exclusion,
low expectations, are pervasive around the world," Harkin said.
"In my view, these are the attitudes that we have got to change,
and I believe we can change them."
The conference also aimed to strengthen partnerships with client countries
other international organizations to build and disseminate good practices
order to help countries achieve the goals of access, inclusion, and
reduction of people with disabilities.
Judith Heumann, Disability and Development Advisor at the World Bank,
explained "the Global Partnership on Disability and Development
(GPDD), which grew out of the 2002 disability and development conference,
is a good example of an informal coalition, including the Bank and more
than one hundred other organizations, that are trying to enable partnerships
by focusing on economic development issues and the strengthening of
human rights for disabled people. Today, a GPDD discussion group of
about 25 people are considering a draft declaration of purpose, possible
creation of a steering group, and next steps. While disabled people
remain the poorest of the poor, we need to better understand and identify
the economic impact of disability in poverty reduction, as we work to
integrate disability into the development agenda of the Bank and other
organizations. We need to recognize that if disabled people are afforded
opportunities like other non-disabled people, then they can also make
meaningful contributions. That's why we are helping our global colleagues
learn what the disabled community is, and how to include it into their
For specific regional data, visit: worldbank.org/disability