The International Classification of Functioning, Disability and Health defines disability as an umbrella term for impairments, activity limitations and participation restrictions. Disability is the interaction between individuals with a health condition (e.g. cerebral palsy, Down syndrome and depression) and personal and environmental factors (e.g. negative attitudes, inaccessible transportation and public buildings, and limited social supports).

There are more than 1000 million people with disability globally, that is about 15% of the world’s population or 1 in 7 people. The number of people who experience disability will continue to increase as populations age, with the global increase in chronic health conditions. National patterns of disability are influenced by trends in health conditions and environmental and other factors, such as road traffic crashes, falls, violence, humanitarian emergencies including natural disasters and conflict, unhealthy diet and substance abuse. 

Disability disproportionately affects women, older people, and poor people. Children from poorer households, indigenous populations and those in ethnic minority groups are also at significantly higher risk of experiencing disability. Indigenous persons, internally displaced or stateless persons, refugees, migrants and prisoners with disability also face particular challenges in accessing services. The prevalence of disability is greater in lower-income countries than higher-income countries, in 2013 the United Nations General Assembly noted that an estimated 80% of people with disability live in developing countries. 

Despite the magnitude of the issue, both awareness of and scientific information on disability issues are lacking. There are few documents providing a compilation and analysis of the ways countries have developed policies and responses to address the needs of people with disabilities.

Related links

Fact sheet on disability and health

Infographics on disabilities and rehabilitation