After four years of work by 360 researches from around the
globe, the World Bank and the World Health Organisation have released a “World
Report on Disability”.

According to the Report, and to the headlines, 15% of humanity, or around one billion people, has a disability.

These numbers are frankly staggering, but less so when one
considers what is counted as a disability. The report, which can be viewed
here, describes a disability as an interaction between the person and their
environment, rather than an attribute of the individual herself. A disability refers
to the negative interaction between a person with a health condition and his environment
(which includes both personal and environmental factors). Thus, those with disabilities
aren’t just those in a wheelchair (the photo used to illustrate this post
notwithstanding…) The definition covers a wide group of people – a child born
with cerebral palsy, a young soldier who lost his leg to a land mine, the
middle aged woman with arthritis, the old man suffering from dementia. In fact,
disability is so widespread that , according to Dr Margaret Chan, director
general of the WHO, “[a]lmost every one of us will be permanently or temporarily
disabled at some point in life.”

Although the report states that those with disabilities do
not necessarily consider themselves “unhealthy”, there are many challenges and
barriers that affect those unfortunate enough to be disabled.  In fact, one-in-five disabled persons
experience “significant difficulties”. 
In delvelopeed countries, these difficulties include employment rates,
schooling, stigma, discrimination, inaccessible transport, buildings and
information.  Even more disturbing, in
developed countries disabled people are three times more likely to be denied
healthcare than other people. No wonder then that those with disabilities are
considered “second-class citizens”. 

(And this is without considering the implications of screening
and aborting unborn children with genetic diseases. An interesting point was
raised by a doctor I know a few weeks ago – if people refuse to abort their
babies who they have a genetic disability, will there be a push for the public health
service not to fund looking after that child as the cost were chosen to be
taken by the parents? Go and see the movie Gattaca everyone!)

What has this to do with demography? Well, everywhere (in developed
or developing countries) disability is associated with growing older. As our
populations get older, they
will have a higher proportion of people with disabilities in them.  As reported by CBS News:

“Disability is especially high in people in their 80s, the “age
cohort” growing fastest in the world, about 4 percent a year.”

We should judge our society on how it looks after the most
disadvantaged among us.  As we age, our
society will have to deal with more and more disabled citizens.  This report should make us stop and ask
ourselves: “How do we make life easier for those for whom life can be so hard?” We must
value all life, whether fully-abled or not. We are all human beings, no matter
the quality of life that we enjoy. It is up to all of us individually to make sure that we are not guilty of putting up any more barriers to those with disabilities.

Marcus Roberts was two years out of law school when he decided that practising law was no longer for him. He therefore went back to university and did his LLM while tutoring. He now teaches contract and...