What do we mean by disability?

Disability as described by the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) is “an evolving concept which results from the interaction between persons with impairments and attidunial and environmental barriers that hinders full and effective participation in society”.

Impairment refers to the loss or reduction in body structure or function caused by health or medical factors. Impairments may be of vision, hearing, intellectual, mental or physical structure or function.

Persons with physicial, hearing, visual, mental or intellectual impairments are often disabled not because of their impairment, but because they are denied access to education, health, employment and participation in political and public life. In a vicious circle, poverty can then lead to increased possibility of disability by increasing people’s vulnerability to malnutrition, disease, poor living and working conditions.

Facts and Figures

According to the World Report on Disability[1] 15% of the world population (over a billion people) has some kind of disability; 20 % of the poorest population are persons with disabilities. Generally small adjustments are sufficient to enable their equal participation. Lack of awareness remains to be the main barrier.

The cycle of poverty and disability affects not only individuals but often entire households. Households with disabled family members are often significantly poorer, have fewer sources of income, and more fragile networks[2]. The largest burden falls on female-headed households.

The barriers people with disabilities face, include:

  • Attitudinal barriers: negative images of the capacities of persons with disabilities, which lead to widespread discrimination, negligence and violence against them.
  • Institutional barriers: discriminatory laws and policies (e.g. regarding autonomous decision-making, voting rights and land rights) and lack of policies for reasonable accommodation.
  • Environmental barriers: inaccessibility of the built environment, transportation services, et cetera, and inaccessibility of information, such as lack of sign language, braille or easy-to-read formats.

Economic costs of exclusion – 470 million of the world’s working age people have some form of disability. 80-90% of persons with disabilities in low-income countries are unemployed. Up to 7% of a country’s GDP is lost due to the exclusion of persons with disabilities on the labour market [3].

Gender – Disability prevalence is higher among female-headed households[4]. When a woman acquires a disability, or when a disabled child is born, the husband often abandons his spouse. The increased level of poverty amongst female-headed households and limited access to healthcare is likely also a factor leading to increased chances of becoming disabled within these households.

SRHR and (sexual) violence – Disabled people are 123% more likely to become a victim of – especially sexual and domestic – violence than people without disabilities[5]. In particular women and girls are at greater risk of (sexual) abuse. At the same time they have less access to tests, medication and care.

Sustainable Development Goals (SDG’s) – The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) explicitly acknowledge and reflect the following vulnerable groups: : ‘…all children, youth, persons with disabilities (of whom more than 80 per cent live in poverty), people living with HIV/AIDS, older persons, indigenous peoples, refugees and internally displaced persons and migrants (p7 of the Declaration)’. [6]

To ensure inclusion of vulnerable groups and their access to services, focused attention to removal of barriers is required.

Exclusion is not only morally unacceptable; barriers to participation lead to underutilization of huge human as well as economic potential. With 20 percent of the poorest population being persons with disabilities, disability-related barriers can no longer be ignored in the fight against extreme poverty.

UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UN-CRPD) – Also very important for the inclusion of people with disabilities is the ratification and implementation of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (2006). More than 155 countries already ratified the CRPD, including the Netherlands (2016). The Convention also contains an article (32) covering policies for international cooperation.

Advocacy – DCDD will make its voice heard, regularly and loud and clear, both on the national level (the Dutch government and Parliament) and on the international scene (United Nations), to highlight the rights and interests of people with disabilities who live in extreme poverty. One of  DCDD’s goals is to achieve that the Netherlands will make an all-out effort to make ‘inclusive’ development an essence of international cooperation, so that its foreign policy complies with the UN Convention. To achieve this, DCDD cooperates closely with IDDC and Ieder(in).


  • [1] World Health Organization (2011). World Report on Disability.
  • [2] Braithwaite, J., D. Mont (February 2008). Disability and Poverty: A Survey of World Bank Poverty Assessments and Implications. SP discussion paper. The World Bank.
  • [3] Buckup S. (2010) ILO Employment Working Paper, no 43. The price of exclusion: The economic consequences of excluding people with disabilities from the world of work.
  • [4] Bruijn, P. (2014). Inclusion Works! Lessons learned on the inclusion of people with disabilities in a food security project for ultra-poor women.
  • [5] Lisa Jones and Al., (2012) Prevalence and risk of violence against children with disabilities: a systematic review and meta-analysis of observational studies, The Lancet.
  • [6] See Annex.