The Work of ESCWA to Mainstream Disability into the Development Process

The relationship between disability and development is integral to the mission of ESCWA, which aims to support member countries in achieving inclusive and sustainable growth. Within ESCWA, the Social Development Division is the focal point on issues and policies related to persons with disabilities.  A major role of the division is to promote the development of people-centred and participatory policies and advocate and support the implementation of international group-specific frameworks and instruments, including those targeting persons with disabilities.  This is achieved through normative and consultative processes, technical support and field projects.

Global and Regional Disability Frameworks

The work of ESCWA on disability originally stemmed from the World Programme of Action Concerning Disabled Persons (1982),[1] the United Nations Standard Rules on the Equalization of Opportunities for Persons with Disabilities (1993)[2] and CRPD (2006).

Within the United Nations system, ESCWA is a member of the Inter-Agency Support Group for CRPD.  This group is composed of over 25 United Nations system agencies, funds and programmes and provides advice and assistance in mainstreaming the actions laid out by the Convention into the strategic plans, policies and programmes of the United Nations system.  This group also provides a forum for member organizations of the United Nations and other agencies to exchange information and strengthen cooperation in relation to the rights of persons with disabilities and other development concerns.[3]

As the regional arm of the United Nations, ESCWA plays an important role in rallying all stakeholders around social development priorities, including disability.  Working alongside the League of Arab States and the Arab Organization for Disabled People, the efforts of ESCWA culminated in proclaiming the period 2004-2013 as the Arab Decade for Persons with Disabilities during the Arab Summit in Tunis in 2004.  The translation of the Decade into a comprehensive Plan of Action provided a regional framework for cooperation on the different priority areas.  The Plan of Action called for concrete actions to ensure that Arab persons with disabilities were aware of and able to exercise their social, economic and civil rights.

Data Collection and the Rights-Based Approach

Over the past decade, the United Nations General Assembly called for urgent attention to specific disability priority areas, including the “full and effective participation of persons with disabilities, building a knowledge base of disability data and facts and promoting accessibility of the built environment and of information and communications technology.”[4]  Accordingly, ESCWA has examined national statistics and policies related to persons with disabilities and their integration in public life, while advocating a rights-based approach. The results of that effort include the following:

  • A country study on disability policy in Jordan:[5] the study adopted a rights-based approach to map the access of persons with physical disabilities to education and health services, employment and social protection;
  • A report on proposed methods to combat poverty among persons with disabilities:[6] this report looked into the interlinkages between disability and factors that lead to poverty and social exclusion;
  • A paper on the regional and international practices that foster the inclusion of persons with disabilities in the labour market:[7] the paper examined international and regional experiences in promoting the inclusion of persons with disabilities and provisions for enhancing their employment and social protection;
  • The eighth session of the ESCWA Committee on Social Development: the meeting was held in Beirut in March 2011 and provided a forum for government representatives of ESCWA member countries to discuss key issues on disability.

Strengthening Knowledge and Policy Infrastructure

Gathering statistics and information is crucial to enable policymakers, researchers and disability advocates to engage in a collective learning process and adopt appropriate policy options.  Accordingly, ESCWA is conducting research on disability statistics and an inventory of national disability policies.  The research will contribute to a regional policy debate that will culminate in a regional conference on the goals, objectives and the progress made in implementing the Plan of Action of the Arab Decade for Persons with Disabilities and CRPD.

Ultimately, the research aims at improving policies that serve persons with disabilities in the region, and increasing the commitment of Governments towards mainstreaming disability into the development process through a time-bound Plan of Action.  It is anticipated that the Plan of Action will highlight gaps and capacity-building needs of Arab countries to implement the Convention and devise a framework to meet those needs. In that respect, ESCWA is reaching out to member countries and partnering with concerned national and regional stakeholders, including civil society, to inform the research process.  Civil society has an important role to play in promoting the rights of persons with disabilities and in monitoring the implementation of CRPD.[8]  Furthermore, ESCWA will use its convening power to facilitate the transfer of knowledge and best practice from other developed regions to foster the civic participation of persons with disabilities and enable them to influence decisions that affect their lives.

Alignment with the Millennium Development Goals

Disability gains new significance in the light of efforts to achieve the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) by 2015. Governments are recognizing that the failure to mainstream disability into the development process will hinder progress towards MDGs.  At present, the General Assembly is recommending the inclusion of persons with disabilities in reviewing progress towards all MDGs.  Table 2 shows the close connection between all MDGs and persons with disabilities, exposing the fact that the needs of persons with disabilities must be considered in all MDG efforts.[9]  Therefore, mainstreaming disability into development planning is crucial to achieve equal opportunities for persons with disabilities and ensure that development benefits are equitable, sustainable and available to all members of society.

Table 2.  Disability and the Millennium Development Goals

Goals Linkage with disability
MDG 1: Eradicate extreme poverty and hunger Hunger, disability and poverty form a vicious circle in which malnutrition causes disability and disability causes and deepens poverty.  Labour-force participation of persons with disabilities is significantly lower than for persons without disabilities.
MDG 2: Achieve universal primary education The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization estimates that of the
75 million children of primary school age who are out of school, one third are children with disabilities and over 90 per cent of children with disabilities in developing countries do not attend school.  The literacy rate for adults with disabilities is as low as 3 per cent in some countries. Without an education, persons with disabilities have far lower capacity for employment and independence, posing an additional burden on the supporting community.
MDG 3: Promote gender equality and empower women Women with disabilities face discrimination based on gender and disability.  Literacy rates for women with disabilities are as low as 1 per cent in some countries, and men with disabilities are almost twice as likely to have jobs as women with disabilities.  Women who give birth to children with disabilities have additional care responsibilities and face social stigma.
MDG 4: Reduce child mortality Mortality for children with disabilities can be as high as 80 per cent even in countries where mortality under 5 years of age is below 20 per cent.
MDG 5: Improve maternal health The United Nations Population Fund estimates that as many as 20 million women per year suffer disability and long-term complications as a result of pregnancy and childbirth.  Abnormal prenatal or perinatal events are a major cause of disability in children.  A large number of perinatal disabilities in children can be prevented by access to skilled midwives and birth attendants.
MDG 6: Combat HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases HIV/AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis are the first, sixth and ninth most frequent causes of disability-adjusted life years (DALYs) in high mortality countries.  One in ten children suffers neurological impairment after cerebral malaria, including epilepsy, learning disabilities and loss of coordination.  Persons with disabilities are particularly vulnerable to HIV/AIDS as they typically lack access to information about how to protect themselves or obtain treatment.
MDG 7: Ensure environmental sustainability Poor environmental quality is a significant cause of illness and disability.  During a crisis, people with disabilities are doubly vulnerable as a result of impairment and poverty.  They are often overlooked or excluded from disaster preparedness, mitigation and intervention.
MDG 8: Develop a global partnership for development Global coordination on disability issues include the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities; the lncheon Strategy to “Make the Right Real” for Persons with Disabilities in Asia and the Pacific; the African and Arab Decades of Persons with Disabilities; and the World Bank Global Partnership for Disability and Development. International agreements and coalitions are needed to guide development.

Source: ESCWA, “Proposed Methods to Combat Poverty among Persons with Disabilities” (E/ESCWA/SDD/2011/IG.1/4, 2011, Part I), adapted from: Report of the Secretary-General, “Realizing the Millennium Goals for persons with disabilities through the implementation of the World Programme of Action concerning Disabled Persons and the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities” (A/64/180, 2009, pp. 6-8); and P. Thomas, “Disability, Poverty and the Millennium Development Goals: Relevance, Challenges and Opportunities for DFID”, (GLADNET Collection. Paper 256, 2005, pp. 7-9).

Latest United Nations Resolutions on Disability (2012-2013)

  • Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and the Optional Protocol thereto (A/RES/67/160);
  • Realizing the Millennium Development Goals and other internationally agreed development goals for persons with disabilities towards 2015 and beyond (A/RES/67/140);
  • Addressing socioeconomic needs of individuals, families and societies affected by autism spectrum disorders, developmental disorders and associated disabilities (A/RES/67/82);
  • Mainstreaming disability in the development agenda (E/RES/2012/11).

Upcoming United Nations Events on Disability (2013)

[1] A/RES/37/152 of 3 December 1982.

[2] A/RES/48/96 of 20 December 1993.

[3] More information available at

[4] Report of the Secretary-General, “Realization of the Millennium Development Goals and other internationally agreed development goals for persons with disabilities”, 2011, (A/66/128), para. 9.

[5] E/ESCWA/SDD/2009/7.

[6] E/ESCWA/SDD/2011/IG.1/4.

[7] E/ESCWA/SDD/2010/WP.4.

[8] More information available at

[9] United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs, “Disability and the Millennium Development Goals”, 2011.