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Disability? Who? Me?

Disability touches all of our lives, either directly or indirectly.

Did you know more than one billion people in the world have a disability (World Health Organisation, 2018)? That’s one in seven people and counting! At some point in your life, you or someone close to you, is likely to experience disability. This is why social well-being and workforce inclusion is everyone’s business.

Keep in mind, disability can take many forms, not just physical. Consider the broad scope of just a few examples.

  • psychological disabilities such as depression, anxiety and bipolar affective disorder
  • sensory impairments, such as blindness or low vision and hearing loss (total or partial)
  • developmental disabilities, such as autism spectrum disorders and cerebral palsy
  • neurocognitive diseases, such as alzheimer’s disease and neurological conditions such as epilepsy.

What others can you think of?

Naturally, the barriers and difficulties for people with a disability are magnified when there is inadequate access to essential resources. For example, according to the World Health Organisation:

  • 70 million people need a wheelchair, but only 5-15% have access to one
  • 360 million people have significant hearing loss, but only 10% of people who need hearing aids have access to these
  • 93 million children have moderate or severe disability

The social barriers for people with an impairment or a disability are significant. Developing awareness of these issues is the first step toward breaking down these barriers, so let’s explore the statistical realities.

Global disability is on the rise

The numbers of people with disability are increasing for several reasons, including injury and disease caused by wars, pollution, poverty and an ageing population.

Older people have a higher risk of disability due to increases in chronic health conditions, such as diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, and mental illness. Chronic diseases are estimated to account for 66.5% of the total ‘years lived with disability’ in low-income and middle income countries. If you’d like to read more, the summary World Report on Disability provides more information.

A smiling lady wearing glasses

Visual impairment

About 80% of all people who are visually impaired are aged 50 and over (Bourne et al, 2017). With the ageing population, more people are at risk of visual impairment.

Short-sightedness (myopia) already affects about 30% of the world’s population and is expected to increase to 50% by 2050 (WHO, 2015). This figure is predicted to be much higher in East Asian countries.

Whilst myopia is not necessarily a disability, there are concerns about an impending epidemic in visual impairments. This is due to society’s increased use of small screens (eg smart phones) and the trend to spend much less time outdoors (Bowden, 2017). These lifestyle choices are implicated in the changing structure of the eye causing myopia and increasing the risk of retinal detachment, cataract, glaucoma and blindness.

Your task

Are you surprised by any of the statistics and facts you have just read? Please post a comment using the link below and share your thoughts on the statement: ‘Disability is everyone’s concern’.

References

Bourne, R.R.A, Flaxman, S.R., Braithwaite, T, et al. (2017). Magnitude, temporal trends, and projections of the global prevalence of blindness and distance and near vision impairment: a systematic review and meta-analysis. The Lancet Global Health, Vol 5, Issue 9.

Bowden, T. (2017). Short-sightedness, or myopia, a global epidemic as children spend less time outdoors. ABC News.

World Health Organisation (WHO). (2018). Disability.

World Health Organisation (WHO). (2015). The impact of myopia and high myopia. Report of the Joint World Health Organization–Brien Holden Vision Institute Global Scientific Meeting on Myopia, University of New South Wales: Australia

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This article is from the free online course:

Realising Career Potential: Rethinking Disability

Griffith University