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IV. People with disabilities

The World Bank and other authorities estimate that there are as many as 600 million persons with disabilities around the world, making them one of the largest minority groups of unserved, marginalized people. Probably 400 million of them live in the Asia-Pacific region. On 30 October 2003, the Director-General of UNESCO observed that “98% of children with disabilities in developing countries do not attend school.” Earlier studies by UNESCAP and UNICEF show that this deplorable condition also applies to the Asia-Pacific region, where only around 2% of children with disabilities – one in every fifty children – have access to education of any sort.

The problem is even more difficult for adults and children with disabilities who live in rural areas of the region, where education facilities and services are scarce and inaccessible. Moreover, early detection and intervention are non-existent or minimal at best in the hinterlands of the Asia Pacific.


Up to 80% of the causes of disabilities are either preventable or avoidable. Nevertheless, the incidence and prevalence of disabilities are on the rise in the region. The number of people with multiple disabilities is also increasing.


Disability is inextricably linked to poverty, which, in turn, has a close correlation with illiteracy. Maternal and childhood nutrition, infection and disease, and the lack of clean water are among the major causes of disabilities. In countries where people are enjoying a longer life span, age related disabilities such as cataracts, hearing loss, and reduced mobility naturally develop, too. Accidents – on the road, in the workplace, at home and at school – are another significant contributing factor, not to mention armed conflict, terrorism and anti-personnel landmines, which are responsible for ever-growing numbers of disabilities.


In response, the governments of the region have launched a number of initiatives to address the needs of people with disabilities. Some significant gains have taken place, thanks to the efforts of these governments working in concert with UN agencies such as UNESCO, UNICEF, ILO and WHO. However, reviews of the situation in 1995 and 1999 proved beyond a doubt that very much more needed to be done. Therefore, the UNESCAP and its partners proclaimed the “Asian and Pacific Decade of Disabled Persons 2003-2012.” This initiative is accompanied by a blueprint for urgent action: the “Biwako Millenium Framework for Action: Towards an Inclusive, Barrier-Free and Rights-Based Society for Persons with Disabilities in Asia and the Pacific.”


There are no simple solutions to providing literacy for the hundreds of millions of children, youths and adults with disabilities in this region. However, there are numerous definite actions to be undertaken in order to meet the needs and fulfill the human rights of this population. The Biwako Millenium Framework for Action (BMF) provides the guidelines to begin.


The BMF is guided by the following principles and policy directions concerning persons with disabilities:

  • Enactment and/or enforcement of inclusive non-discriminatory legislation and policies that provide protection and equity for people with disabilities.
  • Establishment or strengthening of national coordination committees, with effective participation from organizations of and for persons with disabilities in the decision-making process.
  • Support for the development of persons with disabilities and their organizations, with special focus on the development and inclusion of women in these organizations, as well as in mainstream gender initiatives.
  • Inclusion of this population in all programmes focusing on poverty alleviation, primary education, gender and youth employment.
  • Strengthening national capacity in collecting and analyzing disability statistics to support policy formulation and programme implementation.
  • Strengthening community-based approaches to the prevention of the causes of disability, rehabilitation, and provision of equal opportunities.
  • Applying the concept of inclusion to the design of all infrastructure and services in the areas of rural and urban development, housing, transportation and telecommunications.

Furthermore, the BMF targets seven broad areas for priority action:

  • Self-help organizations of persons with disabilities and related family and parent associations.
  • Women with disabilities.
  • Early detection, early intervention and education.
  • raining and employment, including self-employment.
  • Access to built environments and public transport.
  • Access to information and communication technology (ICT).
  • Poverty alleviation through capacity-building, social security, and sustainable livelihood programmes.

Special efforts are needed to eliminate illiteracy among those with disabilities in the Asia-Pacific region. To ensure the success of literacy programmes, concerned governments, NGOs and international agencies must first make progress in reducing the incidence of disabilities in each country by tackling the major causes in the areas of public health, safety and social order. In addition, they must address the prevalence of disabilities in order to identify and refer those individuals whose degree of disability can be reduced or eliminated by medical intervention.


In addition, the political will and commitment of governments are the cornerstones of success. They are essential for the necessary funding, trained personnel, and special equipment and materials.

Last but not least, community-based rehabilitation programmes and community learning centres are the ideal places for providing literacy instruction for people with disabilities.