Flickr: SCA Svenska Cellulosa Aktiebolaget

Here’s a striking fact: 15 percent of the world, an estimated 1 billion people, live with disabilities. Here’s another striking fact: in reality, that number should be much higher.

I learned this while working as a Special Education Instructional Assistant a few years ago. I was working in a classroom that catered to 5-7 year olds with moderate to severe Autism. During this time I met some of the most involved parents and siblings I’ve ever seen.

It wasn’t just the children in my class that were living with disability. It was their entire families, whose lives revolved largely around the care of their child with Autism. While the kids in my class worked hard to develop their social and verbal skills, their parents were working around the clock to advocate on their child’s behalf, ensuring they received the same privileges and treatment as the other children in school.

Nothing about these families lives’ was easy. Still, they had it far easier than similar families in less developed countries.

In many developing countries, a classroom like the one I worked in, would be unheard of. Children with disabilities are often unable to receive schooling or specialized care, leaving parents who are already financially strained with few options.

So who are these people I’m talking about, and how are their lives different? Here are 5 startling facts about life with disability in less developed countries.

1.Eighty percent of people living with disability live in developing countries, and most of them have no access to healthcare. 80 percent! This can be attributed to poverty itself. When mothers lack access to healthcare during their pregnancy, the odds that their child will have a disability increase. Malnutrition and disease at an early age can also cause irreversible impairments. Additionally, some permanent injuries (amputations, for instance) are caused by civil conflict, dangerous working conditions, and environmental hazards.

2. In a study conducted by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), people with disability had lower educational attainment. It's worth noting that the OECD is made up of developed countries. But if countries that likely have more specialized programs and services for people living with disability still find an educational gap, you can only imagine what it must be like in countries that have far fewer services available.

3. Women with disability are considered multiply disadvantaged because they are excluded on two counts: their gender, and their disability. Sadly, this population is especially vulnerable to abuse. A 2004 study in Orissa, India found that pretty much all women and girls who had a disability had been beaten at home, 25 percent of those with intellectual disabilities had been raped, and 6 percent of those with disability had been forcibly sterilized.

4. According to the World Bank, it is estimated that 20 percent of the world’s poorest people have some kind of disability. In their communities,often stigmatized and considered a burden to their families, making them some of the most disadvantaged in their communities. With little to no access to services, many people with a disability find it difficult to get around, they become isolated, dependent on others, and they experience discrimination, increased poverty, and often premature death.

5. In countries where under-five mortality has decreased below 20 percent, the mortality for children with disabilities could be as high as 80 percent. The United Kingdom’s Department for International Development suggested that it seems as though kids with disabilities are being “weeded out,” which brings us back to the idea of stigmatization, discrimination, child abandonment, selective abortions or even infanticide.

As world leaders meet this year to set an agenda that tackles extreme poverty, we need to make sure that the needs of all minorities, including those living with disabilities, are considered. Globally, only 45 countries in the world have anti-discrimination and other disability-specific laws, and far too few countries have programs and services that support this vulnerable group. So many lives are affected by disability. It’s time we step up to ensure that everyone gets a fair chance at reaching their full potential.


Christina Nuñez


Defeat Poverty

5 Facts About Life With A Disability In The Developing World

By Christina Nuñez