Numbers Don’t Feed People–Or Do They?
[Looking for disability-related statistics? Skip to the bottom for useful links.]
Some of the people reading this blog are working with disabled people in developing countries who are starving for food, for medical care, for shelter, for clothing, for an education, for vocational training, for jobs, and for equal opportunity to participate in community and family life. In short, you serve people starving for all basic necessities.
When you are busy educating people with cognitive impairments in Guatemala how to protect themselves from AIDS, or if you’re working to persuade a village in rural Bangladesh to make their new school building wheelchair accessible, then the idea of gathering statistics may seem remote from your daily concerns. Why do we need research to understand people’s problems? Just go to the streets of Uganda or to people’s homes in Yemen and see the problems yourself! Why waste funds on a good census of disabled people when the same money could be used to start helping them?
But most of us–including grassroots advocates in developing countries–know that statistics can provide crucial information. For people in a position to decide how and where money should be spent, statistics can help them understand how many people need help and where they are located so they can ensure that they use resources wisely. Most decision-makers do not have time, money, or staff, to go out into the field to see all the challenges that people face first hand–especially if they serve a large geographical area with a large population. Numbers can never give the full picture of where all the needs are located. But they can be a helpful, and critical, starting point.
For grassroots organizations that already know who the people are they want to help and what their biggest challenges are, having well-researched, reliable numbers can make it easier to secure funding for the programs you want to establish. Wisely chosen statistics, when they are available, can make your funding proposal stronger and more persuasive.
For example, if you simply say, “People with mobility impairments cannot go to health clinics because public transportation isn’t accessible. Please make all the city buses wheelchair accessible.” The city might wonder, “Why should we invest thousands or millions of dollars (or Euros or pesos) that we don’t have to serve what is probably only a tiny number of people?” But suppose you could say, “We have 100,000 people in this region with mobility impairments. We did a study in which we interviewed 500 people with mobility impairments. Half of them have never been to a clinic in their entire lives, and another one-third say they have only visited a clinic once or twice when a relative or neighbor was able to transport them. One of the most common reason they give for not going to health clinics is that they cannot use the public buses to get there. Yet, among the thousands of buses in the city, only 4 have wheelchair lifts.”
This kind of information could make the difference between enough funding or none at all. Statistics don’t feed people, or purchase Braille textbooks, or put wheelchair lifts in public buses. But they can help persuade people with resources to support projects that do.
It can be an enormous challenge for grassroots workers to gather appropriate data, or to find data that has been collected by others. Often, the exact numbers that you need or want may not yet exist at all. It may become necessary to use the “next best thing.” For example, if you cannot find a census on the number of disabled people in your country (the “prevalence” of disability), then you could try to find similar statistics on people with disabilities in a country that is very similar to yours in ethnicity and socio-economic status.
Resources are available on the web that may be able to help you track down some of the numbers you need. The newest of these focuses on statistics related to children with disabilities:
UNICEF has created this resource in acknowledgment that children with disabilities may often experience discrimination even from service providers and their own family members. In their documents and publications area, they have papers you can download in PDF format on topics such as violence toward children with disabilities; an initiative on “child-friendly” schools in Africa; and efforts in inclusive education in the East Asia and Pacific region. Their statistics tables provides statistics related to disabled children in selected countries.
For other statistics related to adults and children with disabilities around the world, particularly developing countries, the World Bank has some useful links and papers available. Researchers seeking to improve their data collection methods may find some of the publications listed at the top of this page of interest. People looking for statistics that have already been gathered will want to follow the links provided at this page to find databases and tables of statistics from a range of sources.
Not all statistics you want are provided in convenient on-line databases or tables. That means you may need to expand your search. For example, it can sometimes be helpful to look for research publications on the general topics you are interested in to see if some of those publications have numbers that will be useful to you. For example, if you want statistics related to education, then try searching for research studies related to educating disabled children.
A long list of research papers on disabled people in developing countries is provided at
Although most of these publications are in English, a few are translated into other languages.
Also try locating peer-reviewed journals related to your profession in your country to see if any of these have published recent research on disabled people.
Many international organizations of (and for) people with disabilities have relevant statistics if you search their web pages carefully. You may wish to follow some of the many links offered at the “blogroll” on this page–see the right-hand navigation bar, or scroll down to the very bottom of this page, and look for the name of an organization that seems relevant to your needs and concerns. As just one example, Action on Disability and Development has a few quick facts and numbers about disabled people on their “Disability Facts” page. Or you can find information related to HIV/AIDS among people with disabilities at the HIV/AIDS Disability Global Survey.
Don’t overlook the links page for the organizations you look at (if there is one): following links from other web sites may lead you to helpful new resources.
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