The world's largest minority

Persons with disabilities are the world's largest minority. Despite this, there is a lack of reliable statistics on persons with disabilities in the world. There are several reasons.

Reliable and relevant statistics are important for the design of policy initiatives. In order to be able to pursue good cooperation and initiatives for people with disabilities in the international development work, we need to have knowledge of living conditions for persons with disabilities.

In societies where it is stigmatizing to have a disability, the number of people in the dark can be high. If people are kept hidden from the public eye, it is also not surprising if they are not included in the statistics. Some children born with disabilities are not even registered by the authorities.

An example of dark numbers comes from a survey conducted in Sierra Leone in 2014. The survey showed that there were only 3,300 people with developmental disabilities in the country. It contradicted an accurate national survey from the previous year which showed that the actual figure was probably ten times as high (UNESCO).

The situation in the world

  • Over one billion people, or 15 percent of the world's population, are estimated to live with at least one form of disability and up to 200 million of them face significant disabilities in life. This means that persons living with disabilities make up the world's largest minority (WHO, World Bank, UNDP).
  • Nearly 80 percent of those living with disabilities are estimated to live in low- and middle-income countries. In these countries, the proportion of people with disabilities in all age groups is higher than in high-income countries (UNESCO).
  • Between 93 and 150 million children in the world live with at least one form of disability (UNICEF).
  • Up to nine out of ten children living with disabilities in developing countries do not go to school (UNESCO, UNITED NATIONS. Disability and the Millennium Development Goals, 2011).
  • Child mortality for children with disabilities can be as high as 80 percent in countries where the average mortality rate for children under the age of five has dropped to below 20 percent (UNICEF).
  • One in five women in the world lives with at least one disability (WHO).
  • One in eight men live with at least one disability (WHO).
  • Poverty is a major contributing factor to disability. At the same time, disability has a tendency to lock people into poverty. Families where one or more people live with a disability are at increased risk of living in poverty (UNICEF). 

90 percent of all children with disabilities do not go to school

Education is one of the most important factors in fighting poverty. It is fundamental for a person's opportunities to get a job, to be able to support themselves and to participate in the development of society.

Children who do not go to school have much worse conditions in the labor market and are at a significantly higher risk of falling into poverty. We know that people with disabilities who have gone to school and got a job feel better, participate in society and contribute to society. All children are equally valuable and have the same rights. No one may be discriminated against.

The UN Children's Fund Unicef has calculated that 1 in 20 children has a disability. This means that there are around 93 million children with disabilities around the world. According to Unesco, about four out of five children with disabilities live in developing countries.

Many studies show that children with disabilities do not go to school to the same extent as children without disabilities and that the situation is particularly serious in developing countries. Despite the fact that according to the Convention on the Rights of the Child it is a human right, 263 million children do not go to school (Unicef).

Unesco estimates that one third of all children in the world who do not go to school have a disability. This means that around 87 million children with disabilities around the world do not go to school. This means that about 90-95 percent of all children with disabilities do not go to school. The alarming figure is supported by other statistics, including reports on the results of the Millennium Development Goals.

Prejudice and discrimination

Poverty, prejudice and lack of accessibility are some of the reasons why children with disabilities are excluded from school. It is very common that the children's capacity and abilities are underestimated, that the environment does not believe that the child can learn, that it does not do any good for the child to go to school. Parents sometimes prioritize siblings without disabilities when poverty forces them to choose. It is not uncommon for older students with disabilities to drop out of school when educational materials for students with, for example, impaired vision or hearing are only designed for the youngest children.

Sometimes the discrimination is due to the fact that responsible authorities lack both the knowledge and resources to provide the right support for children with disabilities.

The way forward requires cooperation with the disability movement

If the countries' governments, authorities and development assistance actors cooperate with the disability movement on issues concerning the school situation for children with disabilities, concrete improvements can take place much faster. People with disabilities possess expertise and knowledge about their disability that is not found anywhere else.

The disability movement must therefore be supported in its efforts to start the enormous work required to create equal schooling for children with disabilities.

Examples of changes required to create a more inclusive society

  • A comprehensive disability movement is required that can engage in dialogue with decision-makers, express needs and put forward proposals and demands.
  • The physical environment in, for example, government buildings, schools, churches, hospitals and other public places needs to be made available.
  • Social information and educational materials need to be adapted to people with special needs, such as people with visual impairment (information in Braille), people with intellectual disabilities (information on easy reading) and deaf people (access to sign language interpreters).
  • Information and support is needed for parents who have children with disabilities so that they understand how they can support and help their children in the best way.
  • School and medical staff need knowledge of what it means to live with a disability and support in how they can adapt their work to different needs.
  • There is a need for organizations that can offer leisure activities where people with disabilities can grow and develop as individuals and citizens.

15 percent 

of the world's population is estimated to live with a disability. 80 percent of them live in low- and middle-income countries.

1 of 3 children

with a disability does not end primary school. Up to nine out of ten children with disabilities do not have access to higher education.

1 of 5 women

living with a disability. 1 in 8 men live with a disability.