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  • One billion people, or 15% of the world’s population, experience some form of disability, and disability prevalence is higher for developing countries. One-fifth of the estimated global total, or between 110 million and 190 million people, experience significant disabilities.

    Persons with disabilities are more likely to experience adverse socioeconomic outcomes than persons without disabilities, such as less education, poorer health outcomes, lower levels of employment, and higher poverty rates.

    As COVID-19 continues to have wide-reaching impacts across the globe, it is important to note how persons with disabilities are uniquely impacted by the pandemic, including health, education, and transport.

    In the area of health, many persons with disabilities have additional underlying health needs that make them particularly vulnerable to severe symptoms of COVID-19, if they contract it. Persons with disabilities may also be at increased risk of contracting COVID-19 because information about the disease, including the symptoms and prevention, are not provided in accessible formats such as print materials in Braille, sign language interpretation, captions, audio provision, and graphics.

    With the widespread school closures, children with disabilities are lacking access to basic services like meal programs; assistive technologies; access to resource personnel; recreation programs; extracurricular activities; and water, sanitation, and hygiene programs.

    As public transport systems reduce or stop services due to COVID-19, persons with disabilities who rely on these methods for accessible transport may not be able to travel, even for basic necessities or critical medical appointments.

    Barriers to full social and economic inclusion of persons with disabilities include inaccessible physical environments and transportation, the unavailability of assistive devices and technologies, non-adapted means of communication, gaps in service delivery, and discriminatory prejudice and stigma in society.

    Poverty may increase the risk of disability through malnutrition, inadequate access to education and health care, unsafe working conditions, a polluted environment, and lack of access to safe water and sanitation. Disability may increase the risk of poverty, through lack of employment and education opportunities, lower wages, and increased cost of living with a disability.

    Global awareness of disability-inclusive development is increasing. The United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) promotes the full integration of persons with disabilities in societies. The CRPD specifically references the importance of international development in addressing the rights of persons with disabilities. To date, 177 countries have ratified the CRPD, which carries the force of binding law. In recent years, an increasing number of bilateral donors have also developed disability policies to guide their international aid. Similarly, at the national level, the number of disability discrimination laws and constitutional provisions have increased significantly.

    The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development clearly states that disability cannot be a reason or criteria for lack of access to development programming and the realization of human rights. The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) framework includes seven targets, which explicitly refer to persons with disabilities, and six further targets on persons in vulnerable situations, which include persons with disabilities. The SDGs address essential development domains such as education, employment and decent work, social protection, resilience to and mitigation of disasters, sanitation, transport, and non-discrimination – all of which are important areas of work for the World Bank. The New Urban Agenda specifically commits to promoting measures to facilitate equal access to public spaces, facilities, technology, systems, and services for persons with disabilities in urban and rural areas.

    Last Updated: May 15, 2020

  • Including persons with disabilities and expanding equitable opportunities are at the core of the World Bank’s work to build sustainable, inclusive communities, aligned with the institution’s goals to end extreme poverty and promote shared prosperity.

    Specifically, the World Bank integrates disability into development through its analytical work, data, and good-practice policies. The Bank also integrates disability issues into its operations across a wide range of sectors, including promoting access to infrastructure facilities and social services, rehabilitation, skills development, creating economic opportunities, and working with Disabled People’s Organizations, focusing on the most vulnerable among people with disabilities, such as women and children, and influencing policies and institutional development. The Global Disability Advisor’s team serves as a focal point for ongoing advisory and analytical support to operational teams on disability-inclusive approaches in project design and implementation. The World Bank launched its first Disability Inclusion and Accountability Framework in June 2018 to offer a roadmap for:

    1. Including disability in the World Bank’s policies, operations, and analytical work; and
    2. Building internal capacity for supporting clients in implementing disability-inclusive development programs.

    The framework is relevant to policymakers, government officials, other development organizations, and persons with disabilities.

    At the Global Disability Summit hosted in the United Kingdom in July 2018, the World Bank Group made ten commitments to accelerate global action for disability-inclusive development in key areas such as education, digital development, data collection, gender, post-disaster reconstruction, transport, private sector investments, and social protection. These are:

    1. Ensuring that all WB-financed education programs and projects are disability-inclusive by 2025.
    2. Ensuring that all WB-financed digital development projects are disability sensitive, including through the use of universal design and accessibility standards.
    3. Scaling up disability data collection and use, guided by global standards and best practices, such as using the Washington Group’s Short Set of Questions on Disability.
    4. Introducing questions on disability into the Women, Business and the Law survey to better understand the economic empowerment of women with disabilities.
    5. Ensuring that all projects financing public facilities in post-disaster reconstruction are disability-inclusive by 2020.
    6. Ensuring that all WB-financed urban mobility and rail projects that support public transport services are disability-inclusive by 2025.
    7. Enhancing due diligence on private sector projects financed by the International Finance Corporation (IFC) regarding disability inclusion.
    8. Ensuring that 75% of WB-financed social protection projects are disability-inclusive by 2025.
    9. Increasing the number of staff with disabilities in the WBG.
    10. Promoting the Disability Inclusion and Accountability Framework among World Bank staff as a way to support the WB’s new Environmental and Social Framework (ESF).

    The World Bank’s Environmental and Social Framework (ESF) includes a strong provision designed to make sure that the interests of persons with disabilities are protected and included, requiring the borrower to look specifically at disability as part of any social assessments. Disabled Persons’ Organizations and experts on disability inclusion participated actively in the consultations on the Safeguards reform.

    The ESF makes several direct references to safeguarding the interests of persons with disabilities and protecting them from unsafe working conditions. It encourages borrowers to undertake reasonable accommodation measures to adapt the workplace to include workers with disabilities, as well as to provide information in accessible formats. Furthermore, the ESF also requires borrowers to undertake meaningful consultations with stakeholders to learn their views on project risks, impacts, and mitigation measures.

    In addition, the World Bank has issued a Directive on addressing project risks and impacts on disadvantaged and vulnerable groups, which also addresses the inclusion of persons with disabilities. The Disability Inclusion and Accountability Framework is aligned with the ESF and will offer a thematic blueprint to support disability-inclusive investments.

    Working with International Development Association

    The International Development Association (IDA) is the part of the World Bank that helps the world's poorest countries. The IDA19 Replenishment will ensure that development is inclusive and benefits all people – women, men, youth, and those living with disability. Deliberate efforts will be made to incorporate the needs of persons with disabilities into the design and delivery of IDA19 operations. To this end, proposed IDA19 policy commitments embed disability inclusion:

    • 50% of entrepreneurship and micro, small and medium enterprise (MSME) projects will incorporate digital financial services and / or digital entrepreneurship elements – and ensure they address particular constraints facing women and persons with disabilities.
    • At least 20 fragile, conflict-affected IDA country portfolios will support improvements in social sector service delivery (health, education, and social protection), with a focus on addressing the differential constraints faced by men and women, boys and girls, and by people with disabilities.
    • Support 12 IDA countries to adopt universally accessible GovTech solutions.
    • Support institutions and build capacity in 30 IDA countries, including those with ongoing statistical operations, to reduce gaps in the availability of core data for evidence-based policy making, including disaggregation by sex and disability.

    Last Updated: May 15, 2020

  • Analysis, data, and good-practice policies:

    Disability Inclusive Education

    Disability and Development

    Disaster Risk Management

    • Collaboration with the Global Facility for Disaster Response and Recovery (GFDRR) has led to a strategic disability inclusion action plan to guide GFDRR investments and analytical work to be responsive to the needs of persons with disabilities. The action plan is complemented by policy guidance and good practices on addressing the needs of persons with disabilities in disaster risk management projects.
    • Under the theme “Inclusion for Resilient Recovery,” the World Bank provided technical assistance and content on disability-inclusive disaster risk management for the Fourth World Reconstruction Conference held in Geneva in May 2019.   


    Technology and Innovation 

    • The importance of disability inclusion within development is highlighted in the World Bank’s key engagement and dissemination efforts. The 2016 World Development Report: Digital Dividends underlines the importance of ensuring that information and communication technologies (ICTs) are accessible for persons with disabilities.


    • The World Bank has developed a Guidance Note for staff on promoting disability inclusion and accessibility in water sector operations.

    Women and Girls with Disabilities

    • The World Bank’s Brief on Violence Against Women and Girls with Disabilities is a part of the Violence Against Women and Girls (VAWG) Resource Guide series in partnership with Global Women’s Institute at George Washington University and the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB). The brief is an effort to explain the causes, types, and consequences of violence against women and girls with disabilities. It also provides recommendations on how to promote constructive and holistic approaches to inclusive policies, more receptive institutions, and more aware communities.

    In-Country work:

    • In Bangladesh, the Disability and Children at Risk Project supported expanding the network of services for children at risk (including children with disabilities) in alignment with the legal and policy framework of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), while strengthening the capacity of the institutions responsible for designing and overseeing programs for child protection.
    • In Bhutan, the Public Transport Access Project supported the Thimphu City Corporation in expanding access to transport services for persons with mobility impairments. This included a technical assessment of public transport accessibility for travel to hospitals, schools, and markets, as well as the development of designs and specifications for bus stop infrastructure and vehicles.
    • In Burundi and Rwanda, the Emergency Demobilization and Transitional Reintegration Project and the Emergency Demobilization, Reinsertion and Reintegration Project provided targeted support for vulnerable groups, including children associated with armed forces and disabled ex-combatants. The projects provide housing for severely disabled ex-combatants and training activities to support their autonomy and general health.
    • In Cote d'Ivoire, Guinea, and Nigeria, the RSR12 Engaging Marginalized Groups in the Design of ID Systems project conducted inclusive consultations to understand how persons with disabilities can access and benefit from technologically enhanced national ID systems.
    • In Egypt, the Cairo Airport Terminal 2 Rehabilitation Project supported improved accessibility measures, some of which were included in the final project design. Today, parts of the airport are disability friendly.
    • In Guyana, the Guyana Education Sector Improvement Project worked with social development specialists to address disability through stakeholder consultations in curriculum reform, teacher training, accessible learning materials, and monitoring indicators.
    • In India, several sectors have been active. For example, the Rajasthan Rural Livelihoods Project and the North East Rural Livelihoods Project (NERLP) enhanced economic opportunities for rural populations and the most vulnerable groups, including those with physical disabilities, though self-help groups. The Teacher Training on Inclusive Education initiative focused on inclusive education for children with disabilities including those with learning disabilities, while the Tamil Nadu Empowerment and Poverty Reduction Project focused on providing services for intellectual and developmental disabilities.
    • In Indonesia, the PNPM Peduli project works with civil society organizations to reach marginalized groups, and currently includes a pillar on disability that focuses on capacity building and grant financing for disabled people’s organizations (DPOs). The National Rural Water Supply and Sanitation Project (PAMSIMAS AF II) has introduced a disability-inclusive approach into its operations, and focused on institutionalizing disability inclusion in the project cycle and mainstreaming disability in project policies.
    • In Iraq, the Emergency Disabilities Project supported the delivery of improved rehabilitation and prosthetic services for people with disabilities.
    • In the Kyrgyz Republic, the Bank supported the creation of community-based infrastructure services (including health clinics and schools), with a focus on accessibility of persons with disabilities.
    • As part of a Development Policy Loan, the Bank helped the government of Morocco elaborate an action plan on accessibility and urban transport with a specific focus on identifying priority interventions in select major cities and review the construction code to promote accessibility. A national workshop was conducted to engage policy and decision makers at the ministerial level, and the recommendations of the national plan form part of the transport projects and interventions.
    • In Nepal, the Enhanced Vocational Education and Training project focused on strengthening technical education targeted specifically to disadvantaged groups, including persons with disabilities. This involved supporting a short-term training of youth between 16-40 years of age. While the project reimbursed 60% to 80% of the cost of the agreed training, the project covered 100% of training costs for persons with disabilities.
    • In Nigeria, disability inclusion is incorporated into multiple projects. The Agro-Processing, Productivity Enhancement and Livelihood Improvement Support Project will support women, youth, and farmers with disabilities. The Ibadan Urban Flood Management Project is working to ensure that infrastructure investments embrace universal design principles, and the needs of persons with disabilities are incorporated into the design of the flood early warning system.
    • In Vietnam, persons with disabilities have been identified as specific beneficiaries in the Scaling up Urban Upgrading Project. This disability-inclusive project in several medium-sized cities implements technical standards for accessible infrastructure; universal design in urban environments, roads, schools, and public facilities; and transport accessibility.
    • Additional projects addressing issues of disability through a social inclusion lens are being implemented in Bangladesh, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Indonesia, Grenada, Lebanon, and Morocco.

    In addition to World Bank financing, the Japan Policy and Human Resources Development Fund financed efforts to mainstream disability in World Bank projects around the world for a total of $23 million, for example:

    • In Jamaica, support was provided for improving services and employment opportunities for people with disabilities.
    • In Moldova, a project supported the improvement of access to education for children with disabilities.
    • In Peru, a project focused on mainstreaming inclusive design and universal mobility in Lima.
    • In Romania, the focus was to improve policymaking and the institutional framework addressing people with disability.
    • In India, the World Bank supported the production of training packages titled “Making Inclusion Work” for master trainers, who will train general education teachers on supporting students with autism, hearing impairments, cerebral palsy, and deafblindness.

    Last Updated: May 15, 2020

  • Partnerships play a critical role at the strategic level, by developing policy and institutional frameworks, and at the project level, through joint implementation with civil society and disabled people’s and community-based organizations to promote inclusion of people with disabilities.

    Last Updated: May 15, 2020

Additional Resources