Narrowing the data gap: World Bank and Microsoft commit to unlocking better development outcomes for persons with disabilities

A grandmother and grandson, who has a physical disability, view a digital tablet while seated on a sofa in a home in Brazil.

Across the world, persons with disabilities remain invisible in the global development agenda. One key reason is because of variances in the availability and use of disability-disaggregated data across organizations and borders.  

While it is estimated that one billion people, or 15 percent of the world’s population, have a disability – more data is needed to understand the true scale of the living conditions and development outcomes for persons with disabilities, and to get clarity on the degree to which persons with disabilities continue to be underserved.  

This reality is a part of what the World Bank calls the disability divide the gap in societal inclusion for persons with disabilities in all stages of development programs, including education, employment and digital inclusion. The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated this risk and exposed some of the existing inequalities faced on a regular basis. 

Many governments around the world use census data to understand a country’s socioeconomic situation and to allocate resources or consider policy to address the needs of its citizens. While every country is on their own journey to leverage data to inform policy and development outcomes, there is an opportunity to bring data on disability together for the global public good, so that groups can more accurately prioritize disability inclusion within global efforts.  

In response to this challenge, the World Bank and Microsoft, in collaboration with the Disability Data Initiative at Fordham University, are partnering to expand both access to and the use of demographics and statistics data to ensure representation of disability, particularly in low- and middle-income countries. The goal of this effort is to develop a public facing, online “disability data hub” to offer information on persons with disabilities across populations, geographies and development indicators.  

Principles for the development of the hub include:  

  • Engaging with the disability community to inform the creation of the hub and its offerings. 
  • Aligning with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, which require countries to disaggregate data by disability by 2030. 
  • Taking a holistic approach to data collection on disabilities, including collating and aggregating multiple data sources, such as national household surveys and censuses. 
  • Providing a user-friendly and accessible interface for a wide range of users. 
  • Offering data analysis and accessible visualization tools. 
  • Serving as a knowledge repository by publishing trends and country profiles, offering trainings and capacity building materials and linking to relevant partner resources on disability data disaggregation. 

About the new disability data hub  

For the World Bank, this endeavor forms part of its institutional commitment to persons with disabilities, as set out by the Ten Commitments on Disability-Inclusive Development. One such commitment calls for the scaling up of disability data collection and use. In line with this, the World Bank has produced numerous cross-sectoral analytics to ensure that the needs of persons with disabilities are embedded across the spectrum of bank operations. These analytics have provided action-oriented direction for government officials and decisionmakers in the areas of disaster risk management, water and education. Progress on disability data collection has also informed policy commitments in IDA19 and IDA20 – the World Bank Group’s most recent funding cycles for the poorest countries – to strengthen the collection and use of disability disaggregated data.  

“The World Bank’s partnership with Microsoft aims to bring higher visibility to the development outcomes and living conditions of persons with disabilities,” said Charlotte McClain-Nhlapo, Global Disability Advisor of the World Bank. “This effort will ensure that more policymakers, development practitioners, civil society and academia use a disability lens and evidence to inform new financial investments, policy reforms and service delivery.”  

This new collaboration builds on Microsoft’s 25 years of work on accessibility and inclusion and its recent five-year commitment to make additional progress – including through the development of new, accessible tech tools and adaptive devices, by creating accessible hiring opportunities and by building an inclusive workforce. 

“Disability is a growing demographic, and COVID-19 has acted as a mass disabling event, growing the base of people with disabilities worldwide,” said Jenny Lay-Flurrie, Microsoft Chief Accessibility Officer. “The disability divide has been a reality for decades. This new disability data hub is a step forward in wrapping our arms around the demographics of disability in a more strategic, long-term way. Through partnership we think we can make a tangible difference.” 

Data helps inform frontline efforts to address the disability divide 

Up-to-date and inclusive statistics about persons with disabilities remain hard to find and often are fragmented. This inhibits global efforts to apply a disability-disaggregated lens.  

The new disability data hub aims to provide a clearer picture of disability prevalence, representation and inclusion globally. This will help make it more possible than ever for governments, development practitioners, organizations of persons with disabilities, employers and civil society to understand the varying intersectional barriers for individuals with disabilities based on factors such as age, gender or socioeconomic background.   

The new hub will also act as a key resource to: 

  • Move people to awareness and thoughtful, collective action.  
  • Increase collaboration and progress on breaking down stigmas and outdated assumptions surrounding disability.  
  • Inform policy and legislative conversations in the coming years. 
  • Inspire innovation across industries such as technology, healthcare and education.  

Now is a critical time to ensure there exists a clear and more complete picture of persons with disabilities’ lives and the barriers they face. This will be essential to allocate resources to meet their basic needs and to scale programs to empower them.  

Top image: A grandmother and grandson, who has a physical disability, view a digital tablet while seated on a sofa in a home in Brazil (iStock image).   

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