This op-ed was originally published in English and Azerbaijani in Report Information Agency.
December 3 is International Day of Persons with Disabilities. It is a day to celebrate and recognize the many contributions of our family members, neighbors, friends, and fellow citizens who live with a disability, whether visible on not visible. It is also a time to reflect what we, as individuals and society can do to more fully include all persons with disabilities, no matter how young or old they may be, into all aspects of life.
In Azerbaijan today, there are approximately 560,000 persons with disabilities (5.6 percent of the population), of which about 10 percent are children. The prevalence of disability is low relative to other countries, which can be attributed to the country’s young demographics. The prevalence of disability rises as population ages. The majority of adults become disabled in their mid-fifties, when the onset of chronic diseases such as cancers, cardiovascular, and musculoskeletal health conditions increase. Adult disability is also increasingly linked to mental health issues.
While the presence of a health condition and/or impairment is required for disability to occur, disability experience is defined by the interaction between the health condition and environment in which a person lives. Environment can present obstacles to daily functioning and thus increase disability, or it can act as a facilitator (accessible physical environment, positive attitudes, assistive devices, etc.) and reduce the experience of disability. This definition was developed by the World Health Organization and is espoused by the United Nation Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.
Azerbaijan was one of the world’s first countries to sign and ratify the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (2008). Since then, Azerbaijan has significantly invested in implementing the Convention and promoting respect for the dignity and rights of persons with disabilities. The actions taken include changes to national legislation, strengthening the disability assessment system, improving access to education and other public services for children with disabilities, making public infrastructure more convenient to all people with disabilities. Azerbaijan’s new National Socioeconomic Development Strategy 2022-2026 emphasizes the inclusion of people with disabilities with goals including improved accessibility of public infrastructure, strengthened social assistance, and inclusion of people with disabilities into the labor market.
Implementing the Convention is a process of progressive realization. As Azerbaijan works to meet its national and international commitments on disability inclusion, there are several important policy considerations:
- Mainstreaming: All public policies and programs must be inclusive. Persons with disabilities should have equal access to all mainstream government policies and programs, as emphasized by the World Health Organization and the World Bank’s World Report on Disability and corroborated by inclusion efforts implemented in Azerbaijan.
- Disability status assessment: Disability status assessment is a checkpoint that anyone claiming a publicly provided disability-related benefit, service or product must pass through. Azerbaijan has recently strengthened its disability assessment system, including by incorporating some elements of the modern understanding of disability. To further develop the assessment system, the Ministry of Labor and Social Protection of the Population is planning to pilot-test a disability experience measurement tool extensively tested and recommended by the World Health Organization. The World Bank will assist the Ministry in conducting this research under the Azerbaijan Rapid Technical Assistance Facility funded by the European Union.
- Disability needs assessment: The Ministry of Labor and Social Protection of the Population is looking into ways to improve the assessment of needs of persons with disabilities. This will help Azerbaijan to integrate status and needs assessments, and to better plan and monitor public services. Still, a successful needs assessment system necessitates robust assessment tools and methodology, and well-trained personnel to implement them.
- Services for persons with disabilities: People with disabilities require a variety of services , including medical rehabilitation, technical aids, occupational rehabilitation, psychosocial counselling and support, sign language interpretation, guide dogs, and so on. Some of these services exist in Azerbaijan, but many are nascent or do not exist. The service provision can be contracted out to licensed and certified private service providers through a public procurement process.
- Including persons with disabilities into labor market: Many persons with disabilities wish to work. However, their participation in the labor market is low all over the world. To address the issue, the focus of active labor market policies, such as improved sick leave policy, workplace accommodation, flexible work schedule, skills training and other measures, should be on supporting persons with disabilities who want to continue working and stay employed. Adults who have been disabled since childhood and older adults with disabilities who wish to continue working require specifically tailored set of active labor market policies.
Implementing the National Socioeconomic Development Strategy 2022-2026 and adopting policies to support people with disabilities will help Azerbaijan to move from progressive to full realization of the country’s commitments under the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and improve the wellbeing of people with disabilities. We at the World Bank stand ready to continue to partner with Azerbaijan in support of this important agenda.
Sarah Michael is the World Bank's Country Manager for Azerbaijan
Marijana Jasarevic is the World Bank's Social Protection Specialist