Managing Change: From Exclusion to Inclusion

Contemporary research on disability and development has shown that persons with disabilities are one of the world’s largest untapped human resources.  It is estimated that the loss in gross domestic product (GDP) owing to the economic inactivity of persons with disabilities is approximately US$2 trillion worldwide.[1] A study carried out in a number of Asian and African countries found that the exclusion of persons with disabilities from work resulted in losses ranging between 3 and 5 per cent of GDP.[2]

The costs of exclusion are also very high for the individuals themselves, their families and their communities. Persons with disabilities have poorer health outcomes, lower educational attainment, higher unemployment and less participation in political and recreational activities. Care is often provided by a family member who must forego other employment. In addition, the cost of medical care and assistive devices can be burdensome for persons with disabilities and their families. These factors add to the difficulties of persons with disabilities. At the community level, the economic inactivity of persons with disabilities raises the cost of public welfare systems. The cumulative effects of deprivation, exclusion and disability result in a vicious circle of long-term disadvantage (figure 1).

Figure 1. Disability and Poverty: A vicious circle

The effects of poor access to health care and rehabilitation services, the disability and weak policy environment, the poor access to education and training and employment opportunities, the lack of decision-making , result in a circle of long-term disadvantages.

Breaking this circle is only possible when people appreciate that adults and children with disabilities have the same rights as other individuals to access social services and participate fully and equally in public life.  Awareness-raising is indispensable for reshaping negative attitudes towards persons with disabilities.  Education, training and active labour-market policies can move persons with disabilities out of poverty and discourage welfare dependency.  Strong regulations and laws can protect persons with disabilities from discrimination and exclusion and foster social justice.

[1] G. Demarco, “Unlocking the Economic Potential of Persons with Disabilities in MENA,” Knowledge and Learning Quick Notes Series, No. 9 (World Bank, August 2009).

[2] S. Buckup, “The Price of Exclusion: The economic consequences of excluding people with disabilities from the world of work,” Employment Working Paper No. 43 (International Labour Organization, 2009).