Third quinquennial Review and appraisal of the World Programme of Action concerning Disabled Persons [A/52/351] PART 2 of 2

VI. Conclusions and recommendations

A. Concluding remarks

The data available for the third review and appraisal suggest widespread policy-level support for the goals and objectives of the World Programme of Action. The Special Rapporteur on Disability notes, for instance, that 85 per cent of Governments responding to his 1995 questionnaire for the second round of monitoring of the Standard Rules reported the existence of a national disability policy.

Programme implementation experience since the end of the United Nations Decade of Disabled Persons on Equalization of Opportunities for Persons with Disabilities and the Long-term Strategy to Implement the World Programme of Action concerning Disabled Persons to the Year 2000 and Beyond, provide useful frameworks both for advocacy and for the design and evaluation of policy options in the field of disability. Moreover, the decision by member States of the Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific to proclaim the period 1993-2002 as the Asian and Pacific Decade of Disabled Persons has provided a time-frame to plan and coordinate action at the regional level to further the World Programme's goals of full participation and equality.

A major lesson of the implementation experience since the end of the Decade is the recognition of the need to address disability issues both in the context of overall development and with reference to a broader human rights framework. This is evident in the observed shift in policy emphasis from the integration of disabled persons to their full participation in mainstream development. Participation in development and the adoption of human rights approaches raise issues of empowerment and of environmental factors which facilitate or impede participation by all. Concern with the broader human rights framework reflects growing recognition that addressing the social, economic and cultural rights, and civil and political rights, of persons with disabilities advances the rights of all. Participation in development and human rights thus represent a means and an end of the World Programme of Action, a view which finds support in the Copenhagen Declaration on Social Development, in which the significance of social development and human well-being for all and the need to give to those goals the highest priority is noted.33

A second lesson has been the expansion of constituencies concerned with disability issues. In addition to action by Governments, which traditionally are addressed in international development instruments, there have been significant increases in participation by the non-governmental community and the private sector (including foundations) in practical action in the disability field. This trend suggests the importance of policy coherence and of modal neutrality when designing instruments to further the objective of equalization of opportunities. Modal neutrality in this sense refers to policy design which promotes local initiative and flexibility in decisions on implementation modalities. Policy coherence refers to the need to present the objective of equalization of opportunities in a framework that can accommodate short-term differences in policy preferences, which may arise among the various sets of development agents.

A third lesson is the continued validity of the substantive content and the multidimensional character of the World Programme of Action. The goals and objectives of the World Programme are reflected widely in the policies of Governments, as well as in selected country cooperation frameworks of UNDP. The World Programme of Action is also providing an effective framework for addressing issues and trends that have emerged since the end of the Decade, from the disability perspective. For instance, recent developments in information and telecommunication technologies have contributed to the creation of virtual communities of interest in the disability field, which are consistent with the accessibility and the institutional development concerns of the World Programme of Action. Virtual communities, moreover, represent an important means to implement the World Programme in the third millennium.

One issue that has emerged since the end of the Decade but which has not received detailed attention in the World Programme of Action is the relationship among population ageing, impairment and disability. Population projections of the United Nations that have recently become available34 indicate that significant increases will occur in both the number and percentage of older persons in all regions beyond the year 2000. Data from the disability statistics database indicate that the incidence of impairment and disability increases significantly with age, so this trend has important and immediate implications for policy design. Current projections indicate that the percentage of the world's population aged 65 and above will increase by some 50 per cent, to 9 per cent of the world's population in the year 2020 from an estimated 6.5 per cent in 1995. Over the same period, the average age of the world's population will increase from 25 years in 1995 to 31 years in 2020. Moreover, infant mortality is projected to decrease by 50 per cent, to 31 per 1,000 births in 2020 from 62 per 1,000 births in 1995, and life expectancy at birth is projected to increase from 63 years in 1995 to 69 years in 2020. These projections suggest that, over the next generation, there will be substantial increases in the number of persons who will spend their lives with some impairment or disability. An urgent need thus exists to examine options to make environments accessible to all to participate on the basis of equality in social life and development. An associated need is to develop alternative frameworks to organize and deliver essential services in the year 2000 and beyond which effectively support independent living and can respond to changes over the life cycle, are community-based and involve beneficiary input in the determination of service needs, alternatives and cost-recovery measures.

B. Recommendations

Data on the implementation of the World Programme of Action since the end of the Decade suggest the continued validity of the World Programme as a framework for advocacy and policy design. They do not indicate any significant lacunae which would require specific research and analysis work on concepts, instruments or strategies. The data do suggest the importance of (a) coherence in policy designs so that they contribute to the full participation and equality goals of the World Programme of Action and (b) modal neutrality when formulating implementation options. The present recommendations thus focus on two sets of issues: (a) suggested priorities in implementation strategies; and (b) suggested resource allocations to strengthen capacities to further implement the World Programme of Action.

Experience strongly suggests that effective strategies for the implementation of the World Programme of Action are characterized by their linking of disability issues with overall development variables and within the broader human rights framework of the United Nations. Rather than focusing on the particular needs of persons with disabilities as a specific social group, the disability perspective on development reflects concern with the set of social, economic and environmental factors that contribute to the attainment of a society for all by 2010. The broader human rights framework introduces concern with empowerment and with accessibility, both of which are essential for the equalization of opportunities and self-reliance.

Experience also suggests three strategic areas in which action and resource commitments are expected to result in improved capacities to further the goals and objectives of the World Programme of Action: (a) data and statistics on disability; (b) methods and procedures of inclusive planning; and (c) capacity-building and institutional development for a society for all.

1. Data and statistical development

Current and reliable data are essential for policy formulation and evaluation from the disability perspective. Improvements in the body of data on disability and in statistical methodologies have occurred in the period since the end of the Decade, although the data are currently somewhat limited for purposes of comparative analysis. Data collection programmes in place and under development in developing countries provide extensive opportunities to promote the use of new statistical concepts and methods, and the compilation of statistics and indicators. Specifically, the round of population censuses in 2000 and the revised census recommendations which, for the first time, cover disability as well as the further development of the topic of disability in national household surveys, will make possible substantial improvements in the availability of statistics on disability for analysis and planning at all levels, as well as for the projected fourth quinquennial review and appraisal of the World Programme of Action in 2002. With such considerations in place, technical cooperation, training and exchanges of information over the forthcoming few years can make a critical difference in the development of disability statistics in countries. In addition, the United Nations disability statistics database represents an essential system-wide resource which contains statistics for monitoring at the international level progress related to the situation of persons with disabilities in countries. The disability statistics database also provides a framework that countries can use in the preparation of their own national statistical databases. Consequently, work by Statistics Division on version 2 of the disability statistics database should be appropriately strengthened on an urgent basis.

2. Further work on indicators for monitoring and evaluation

It is possible to identify three main topics for further work on indicators: (a) identification of indicators for short-term and medium-term targets for equalization of opportunities; (b) incorporation of environmental variables among revisions being proposed for the International Classification of Impairments, Disabilities and Handicaps; and (c) identification of indicators that link selected legal and policy instruments related to the equalization of opportunities.

3. National capacity-building for the disability perspective

Growing concern with the disability perspective on development and the emergence of new constituencies for action on disability introduce an urgent need for information, outreach and strengthening of capacities, with special reference to the equalization of opportunities for all. In the United Nations system, there is a need to build proactive capacities for the disability perspective in the social and economic sectors, including activities for development cooperation. In addition to specialized training and orientation of concerned staff so that they are better able to assist and advise Governments in this area, there is an urgent need for practical guidelines on inclusive approaches to planning, programming and evaluation.

A need exists for capacity-building at the national level, although the heterogeneous set of communities of interest in the disability field suggests the wisdom of modular approaches to outreach, information and skill development. For Governments, major topics of concern would include strengthening of capacities for inclusive-situation analyses and for determining priorities which would best yield improvements for all. For the non-governmental community, a major topic of concern would be negotiation strategies for advancing the agenda of specific social groups within the broad framework of a society for all. Information and outreach among interested members of the private sector would focus on issues of social value, as well as cost recovery of initiatives planned and undertaken to promote the equalization of opportunities for all.


  1. Ronald Wiman and others, The Disability Dimension in Development Action: Manual on Inclusive Planning (Helsinki, National Research and Development Centre for Welfare and Health in Finland on behalf of the United Nations, 1996), p.12.
  2. General Assembly resolution 2856 (XXVI), on the Declaration on the Rights of Mentally Retarded Persons, and Assembly resolution 3447 (XXX), on the Declaration on the Rights of Disabled Persons.
  3. See Official Records of the Economic and Social Council, 1992, Supplement No. 11 (E/1992/31), chap. IV, resolution 48/3.
  4. See UNESCO, "Report of the World Conference on Special Needs Education " (Salamanca, 7-10 June 1994).
  5. A/CONF.157/24 (Part I), chap. III.
  6. Report of the International Conference on Population and Development, Cairo, 5-13 September 1994 (United Nations publication, Sales No. E.95.XIII.18), chap. I, resolution 1, annex.
  7. Report of the World Summit for Social Development, Copenhagen, 6-12 March 1995 (United Nations publication, Sales No. E.96.IV.8), chap. I, resolution 1.
  8. Report of the Fourth World Conference on Women, Beijing, 4-15 September 1995 (United Nations publication, Sales No. E.96.IV.13), chap. I, resolution 1.
  9. A/CONF.165/14, chap. I, resolution I.
  10. Human Rights and Disabled Persons, Human Rights Study Series (United Nations publication, Sales No. E.92.XIV.4 and corrigendum).
  11. Statistics on Special Population Groups, Series Y, No. 4 (United Nations publication, Sales No. E.90.XVII.17).
  12. For example, the international technical exchange organized by the National Federation of the Handicapped of Iceland, in cooperation with the Icelandic Ministry of Social Affairs, to consider strategies and measures for life-enhancing opportunities for people with disabilities, which was held at Reykjavik from 1 to 3 June 1994. In the area of equalization of opportunities, the Guinean Federation to Promote Associations of Disabled Persons organized, in cooperation with the Ministry of Labour, Social Affairs and Employment of Guinea, the Western African Seminar on National Disability Legislation (15 May 1995), which was the first such exchange of its type in the region. The Ministry of Employment and Social Welfare of Ghana convened at Accra, from 21 to 25 August 1995, the first African regional seminar on national coordinating committees in the disability field. In Asia and the Pacific, the Government of Malaysia organized at Kuala Lumpur in December 1996 an inter-country seminar on multisectoral collaborative action for people with disabilities; and the Republic of the Philippines will organize at Manila, in December 1997, an Asia-Pacific conference on issues and strategies concerning national coordinating committees.
  13. See E/CN.4/Sub.2/1996/27.
  14. Ibid., chap. II.
  15. UNDP, Human Development Report 1997 (London and New York, Oxford University Press, 1997), table 13. It is important to note that the data on people with disabilities range from 1985 to 1992. A review of the source data indicate that different definitions of disability are being used, that there are different levels of coverage among the population (the entire population or only certain cohorts) and that some data result from special surveys while others are census data. In summary, the data are not amenable for purposes of comparative analysis.
  16. UNICEF, Atlas of South Asian Children and Women (Kathmandu, UNICEF Regional Office for South Asia, 1996). Survey data are included for four factors whose absence or levels can result in impairment or disability: vitamin A deficiency, iodine deficiency, salt iodization rates and iron deficiency anaemia. The Atlas covers Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka.
  17. Lawrence D. Haber and John E. Dowd, "A human development agenda for disability: statistical considerations" (unpublished paper submitted to Statistics Division of the United Nations Secretariat, 24 January 1994), p. 3.
  18. DISTAT version 1, completed in 1988, contains disability statistics from national household surveys, population censuses and population on civil registers from 55 countries (see United Nations publication, Sales No. E.90.XVII.17).
  19. Australia, "National disability survey" (1988), survey concerns severe handicap measures. Botswana, "National census of population and housing" (1991); census questions cover severe impairment measures. China, "National sample survey of the handicapped" (1987); survey concerns severe impairment measures. Mauritius, "National census of population and housing" (1990); census questions cover severe impairment measures.
  20. Demining data of the United Nations are available on the Internet under the humanitarian affairs icon.
  21. The concept of virtual communities of interest is discussed in Tom Peters, The Pursuit of WOW!(New York, Vantage, 1994) and in Nicholas Negroponte, Being Digital (New York, Knopf, 1995). See also note 31 below, on the impact of Internet-based technologies on empowering interested virtual communities of persons with disabilities in Singapore.
  22. UNDP, Human Development Report 1997, table 13.
  23. Official Records of the Economic and Social Council, Supplement No. 6 (E/1997/26-E/CN.5/1997/11), chap. I, draft resolution III. The draft resolution was subsequently adopted by the Council (resolution 1997/20).
  24. WHO, International Classification of Impairments, Disabilities and Handicaps (1980; reprinted 1993).
  25. General Assembly resolution 48/96, annex, para. 18.
  26. United Nations publication, Sales No. E.96.XVII.4.
  27. ST/ESA/STAT/SER.M/67/Rev.1, paras. 2.266-2.285.
  28. Official Records of the Economic and Social Council, 1997, Supplement No. 4 (E/1997/24-E/CN.3/1997/29), para. 55.
  29. Principles and Recommendations for Population and Housing Censuses (ST/ESA/SER.M/67/Rev.1), pp. 371-372.
  30. The United Nations home page. Interested users can access the full range of digital information available from United Nations bodies and organizations from that site.
  31. The importance of access to digital information resources to the well-being and livelihood of persons, especially among those with disabilities, is discussed in a thoughtful commentary, entitled "Internet for the disabled community; the Singapore experience", which was compiled by the Disabled People's Association of Singapore, a non-governmental organization. The Association notes that Internet technologies reduce the barrier between people labelled as disabled and the majority of the population. On the network, being blind or deaf or unable to walk constitutes no major impediment. Using Internet, intra-disability and cross-disability communications can be enhanced. The commentary is located on the Internet.
  32. An accessibility guide to New York City has been published as the result of a joint initiative of voluntary organizations, the private sector and the City of New York; see Access for All: A Guide for People with Disabilities to New York City Cultural Institutions (1992).
  33. Report of the World Summit for Social Development, Copenhagen, 6-12 March 1995 (A/CONF.166/9), chap. I, resolution 1, annex I, para. 1.
  34. United Nations, "World population prospects: the 1996 revision", annex II, "Demographic indicators by major area, region and country"