“One measure of civilization is how well we treat the most vulnerable members of our society.”

Dr. William H. Foege

Senior Fellow, Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation

Disability is an intrinsic aspect of the human condition and most people will experience disability at some point in their lives. Globally, one billion people – or 15 per cent of the world population – are estimated to be living with disability. By contrast, Arab countries report comparatively low prevalence of disability, ranging from 0.4 to 4.9 per cent of the population, which evidences widespread differences and difficulties in data collection, research and analysis.

In response to this and on the occasion of the conclusion of the Arab Decade for Persons with Disabilities (2004-2013), the Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA) together with the League of Arab States collected baseline information on disability in the Arab region. The results of this baseline study are presented in the following report, making it the first publication to bring together statistical data on the situation of persons with disabilities and information on the institutional and legal frameworks on disability for all 22 Arab countries.

The present report is divided into two sections. The first part summarizes a selected number of regional trends related to disability, including disability prevalence, institutional and legal frameworks on disability, and access to education and employment. The second part, which represents the core of this report, presents a compilation of statistical data on persons with disabilities and qualitative information on institutional and legal frameworks. 

This report was written by Alexandra Heinsjo-Jackson, Associate Social Affairs Officer, Inclusive Social Development Section and Lubna Ismail, Research Assistant, Inclusive Social Development Section, under the supervision of Gisela Nauk, Chief, Inclusive Social Development Section, Social Development Division, and the overall guidance of Frederico Neto, Director, Social Development Division, ESCWA. The ESCWA team and the League of Arab States are grateful to the national statistical offices and government focal points who collected complex information across institutional boundaries within their respective countries. In addition, the participants of the Conference on the Arab Decade for Persons with Disabilities and Beyond held in Cairo on 30-31 October 2013 provided important insights and inputs to the present report. This study also benefited from substantial contributions from Katharine Brooks and Sarah Slan, as well as comments and support from Aiko Akiyama, Diane Alméras, Nadine Chalak, Tarek El-Nabulsi, Nawaf Kabbara, Marwan Khawaja, Salwa Mohamed, Chol O Han, Matthew Perkins, Juraj Riecan, Tanja Sejersen and Zeina Sinno. The team also gratefully acknowledges the Social Development Division in the Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP), in particular its publication Disability at a Glance 2012: Strengthening the Evidence Base in Asia and the Pacific, which provided inspiration for the structure and content of the present report.

The views expressed in this report are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations. Feedback from readers is welcome and suggestions may be sent to