Disability & Development

What is disability?

The United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD) 2008 defines disability as:

‘… an evolving concept that results from the interaction between persons with impairments and attitudinal and environmental barriers that hinders their full and effective participation in society on an equal basis with others’.1

The World Health Organization (WHO) uses the International Classification of Functioning definition:

Disability is a generic term that includes impairments in body functions and structures, activity limitation and participation restrictions. It indicates the negative aspects of the interaction between an individual (with a ‘health condition’) and his context (environmental and personal factors).’2

Disability is the pairing of impairment experienced by an individual interacting with social, political and environmental barriers that prevent them from participating equally in their community. Barriers can include physical access, attitudinal and or environmental for example. Impairments are ‘problems in body function or structure such as deviation or loss.’2 Disability occurs as a result of society’s non-inclusive and even ostracizing behaviour to persons with impairment.

Poverty and Disability

Disability can often go hand in hand with poverty, in a cycle that is hard to break. Defining poverty is a complex task. Broadly speaking it is a condition where an individual does not have the means to access necessities in life such as clean water, sanitation, nutrition, health, shelter, education, and so forth. The World Bank uses a widely accepted fixed measure of extreme poverty as a purchasing power of less than US$1 a day (Poverty and Disability – Leonard Cheshire Disability UCL).

Extreme poverty can cause disability, through a lack of access to adequate nutrition, preventative and curative health care, access to clean water and sanitation, and unsafe working conditions.

A person with disability, due to their marginalization and exclusion by the society, can be unable to access education and paid employment, which pushes them into poverty; and poverty in turn makes it difficult to engage equally in society due to institutional and attitudinal barriers around their disability.

This cycle of poverty and disability affects millions of people across the world.

To understand this cycle better take a look at the explanation given on CBM Australia’s ‘End the Cycle’ initiative.