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Disability inclusion - ensuring equal access to urban opportunities for all

Sameh Wahba's picture

What will the world look like in 2050?

What we know is that nearly 70% of the world’s population will live in cities.
What we want, as envisioned through Sustainable Development Goal 11 (SDG11), is that future cities are inclusive, safe, resilient, and sustainable for all – including over one billion persons with disabilities.
In keeping with SDG11, the New Urban Agenda is striving to ensure that future cities, towns and basic urban infrastructures and services are more environmentally accessible, user-friendly, and inclusive of all people’s needs, including persons with disabilities.
[Immersive story: 3 Big Ideas to Achieve Sustainable Cities and Communities]
Cities need to be designed in a way that facilitates access for persons with disabilities to buildings and services, and increases their opportunities for economic participation and activity.

The need for disability-inclusive urban development cities was emphasized at the Ninth World Urban Forum (WUF9), held in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, in February 2018. Throughout the seven-day conference, participants from around the world highlighted, among other themes, the importance of the inclusion of persons with disabilities in urban development.
In this video, Charlotte McClain-Nhlapo (@McNhlapo), the World Bank’s Global Advisor for Disability Inclusion, interviews World Bank Director for Urban and Territorial Development and Disaster Risk Management, Sameh Wahba (@SamehNWahba) on his reflections on the outcomes of WUF9.
In the interview, Sameh emphasizes the importance of “ensuring access for all, not just in the sense of access to transport and infrastructure, but also in the sense of creating opportunities for all, in particular for persons with disabilities.” 

How should we design disability-inclusive cities?

Ede Ijjasz-Vasquez's picture

Urbanization has been one of the most significant driving forces of recent global development, with more than half the world’s population now living in cities. And this proportion will continue to rise. Add to this, the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goal 11 that calls for “inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable” cities.

In this edition of the Sustainable Communities Blog, Ede Ijjasz-Vasquez (@Ede_WBG), Senior Director of the World Bank’s Social, Urban, Rural and Resilience Global Practice, sat down with Dr. Shazia Siddiqi, Executive Director of Deaf Abused Women’s Network (DAWN), for a conversation on the disability dimension of inclusion and how we should conceive and design cities that are truly inclusive of all, including persons with disabilities.

DAWN is a non-profit organization servicing the Washington, D.C., area with a mission to promote healthy relationships and end abuse in the Deaf community through providing survivors of abuse the help they need to heal and progress with lives, and through community education on how to foster positive relationships.

This wide-ranging discussion touches on several key issues that are crucial for sustainable and inclusive development and important for breaking down barriers of exclusion. Particularly given the prevalence of persons with disabilities moving to cities, the topics include how to incorporate disability inclusive technology into smart city planning, disaster risk management (DRM), and attitudes that enhance the dignity of persons with disabilities.

Disability and the right to education for all

Amer Hasan's picture
(Photo: Steve Harris / World Bank)

December 3 is the International Day of Persons with Disabilities. Every year, on this day, the international community comes together to take stock of the progress that has been made to advance the rights of people with disabilities around the world.

At the World Bank, we commemorate the signing of the United Nations Convention of the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and underscore our commitment to Sustainable Development Goal 4 (SDG4), to “ensure equal access to all levels of education and vocational training for the vulnerable, including persons with disabilities” by 2030. Yet, despite these international commitments, globally, too many students with disabilities still face significant barriers when it comes to attending school.  

Pipeline to Work: Including persons with disabilities in skills development and employment projects

Charlotte McClain-Nhlapo's picture
Photo: Dane Macri/The Advocacy Project via Flickr CC
Photo: Dane Macri/The Advocacy Project via Flickr CC.

The relationship between poverty and disability goes both ways: disability increases the risk of poverty, and the conditions of poverty increase the risk of disability.

Yet, little attention has been given to the employment readiness of persons with disabilities. This is of concern given that the employment rates of persons with disabilities are a third to half of the rates for persons without disabilities, with unemployment rates as high as 80%-90% in some countries.

[Learn more: Disability Inclusion]

Disability is a complex, evolving, and multidimensional concept. Currently, it is estimated that 15% of the world population experiences some form of disability, with prevalence rates higher in developing countries. As opportunities for sustainable income generation are directly tied to a person’s access to finance, markets, and networks, persons with disabilities usually face significant challenges in accessing these, due to:

  • non-inclusive regulations and policy,
  • lack of resource allocation,
  • stigma and societal prejudice,
  • low educational participation, and
  • inability to access their own communities and city spaces.
To continue building inclusive cities, research tells us that countries cannot achieve optimal growth by leaving behind a large group of their citizens – persons with disabilities – with economic losses from employment exclusion ranging from 3 to 7 % of the GDP. We also know that when you combine gender and disability, the challenges facing women with disabilities compound. Women with disabilities are more likely to earn less than men with disabilities and they are affected by inaccessible sanitation, smaller social and professional networks, and gender-based violence – see, for example, labor force data from the UK.

We need to do much more to ensure that women with disabilities are mainstreamed into projects that seek to empower women as entrepreneurs and change agents.

Expanding equitable opportunities for persons with disabilities is at the core of the World Bank’s work to build sustainable and inclusive communities. So, what might a disability-responsive moonshot look like for development projects addressing work for persons with disabilities? Here’s what we’re doing at the World Bank:

To achieve ‘learning for all’, we must create inclusive systems for students with disabilities

Charlotte McClain-Nhlapo's picture
We should be looking at educational opportunities for all children and young people with disabilities. (Photo: Masaru Goto / World Bank)

While schools and educators aim at more inclusive approaches across the globe, it’s important to acknowledge that mainstream education settings can unknowingly exclude deaf and hard of hearing people. 

According to the World Federation of the Deaf, out of the 70 million deaf people in the world, 56 million receive no education at all.  This is especially true among deaf women and girls, and people living in developing countries.

This is part of the learning crisis that we at the World Bank are concerned about.

Leaving no one behind – achieving disability-inclusive disaster risk management

Charlotte McClain-Nhlapo's picture
Southern, Thailand - January 9, 2017: a volunteer helps a man with a disability get through the flood in his wheelchair. Photo: issara anujun /
Natural hazard events can occur in any country, at any time.  At present, India, Bangladesh, and Nepal are dealing with the aftermath of some of the worst monsoon flooding in years, which has left more than 1,200 people dead and millions homeless.  At the same time, North America and the Caribbean region are responding to some of the strongest hurricanes on record.

At such times of peril, individual and community resilience is at a premium, and we cannot afford to miss opportunities to bolster that resilience wherever possible. This is especially true with respect to certain groups – such as persons with disabilities – who have historically been disproportionately affected by natural hazards.

While some strides have been made in addressing the needs of persons with different disabilities in response and recovery efforts, fewer efforts are aimed at incorporating lessons into long-term disaster and climate risk management at a systemic and/or policy level.  

More needs to be done to create disability inclusion for all – a topic that was discussed during a Facebook Live chat on September 19.

Is technology the way forward for addressing mental health among youth?

Varalakshmi Vemuru's picture
After an accident at his workplace, Bhoomi, a 26-year-old from rural Tamil Nadu, India, lost interest in work and isolated himself from everyone. His neighbors were at a loss to understand the change in his behavior. He was labeled a “lunatic,” which worried his parents and propelled them to seek help.
Mental illness or disability can be a debilitating experience for an individual as well as his or her family. People not only have to deal with the physical and biological impacts of an illness, but also with the social and cultural stigma that accompanies it.
This was what Bhoomi and his family went through before they benefited from the Tamil Nadu government’s Mental Health Program (TNMHP).

From the slopes to life in a wheelchair

James Dooley Sullivan's picture

Last December, James Dooley Sullivan packed his wheelchair and travelled to Jamaica. The Caribbean nation is a tourist destination, but the trip wasn’t a vacation. Sullivan, an animator and visual arts video editor at the World Bank Group, wanted to see first-hand what it’s like to be disabled in a developing country. He shares his experience and his own history in a video and a series of blog posts.

© Laura Fravel

Life in a wheelchair is pretty straight forward – it just requires a different set of verbs. Each morning I transfer into my chair, roll into the bathroom, and flip onto the toilet. I transfer back into my chair and then wiggle into professional attire. I drink enough tea to become civil before descending on my house’s external lift to the sidewalk.

Social inclusion essential for eradicating poverty

Lauri Sivonen's picture

The social inclusion of disadvantaged groups is necessary for reducing poverty and boosting shared prosperity, said government representatives, experts, and civil society representatives at a World Bank seminar on Friday, April 21. Persons with disabilities, Indigenous Peoples, as well as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) persons form a large part of the world population affected by poverty. They often face multiple discrimination and exclusion because of their overlapping identities, stressed Maitreyi Das, Social Inclusion Global Lead at the World Bank Group. 

Patricia Peña, Director General for Economic Development of Global Affairs, Canada, highlighted the commitment of Canada—through its foreign assistance, diplomacy, and domestic efforts—to support policies and programs addressing economic and social inclusion of LGBTI people. Disaggregated data collection is one of the priorities for developing effective responses. Harry Patrinos, Practice Manager at the Bank’s Education Global Practice, made a cross-country assessment of poverty among Indigenous Peoples. Ulrich Zachau, the World Bank’s Country Director for Southeast Asia, discussed the Bank’s ground-breaking data generation efforts on LGBTI persons in Thailand. There is a need to find a shared way of measuring disability, said Nick Dyer, Director General of Policy and Global Programmes at the UK Department for International Development.

View tweets from the session below. Learn more about the World Bank's work on social inclusion, disability, indigenous peoples, as well as sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI). 

A year of building sustainable communities in 12 stories

Andy Shuai Liu's picture
What are some of the key issues that will shape global development in 2017?

​From addressing the forced displacement crisis to helping indigenous communities, and from implementing the “New Urban Agenda” to enhancing resilience to disasters and climate change, one thing is clear: we must step up efforts to build and grow economies and communities that are inclusive, resilient, and sustainable for all—especially for the poor and vulnerable.
In the timeline below, revisit some of the stories on sustainable development that resonated the most with you last year, and leave a comment to let us know what you wish to see more of in our “Sustainable Communities” blog series in 2017.