Disability Statistics: Our Place in the Sun

The 48th session of the UN Statistical Commission took place from 7-10 March at the UN in New York with over 650 participants and 45 NGOs attending the opening session. This was an important and relevant session for our work as the SDG indicator framework was discussed and put forth for agreement, and on 10 March the UN Statistical Commission agreed on the SDG indicator framework and will recommend that ECOSOC adopt it. This is another building block strengthening the implementation of the 2030 Agenda and is relevant for persons with disabilities as there are 11 disability indicators in the framework, as well as disaggregation by disability in the chapeau.

Disability was included throughout the four days with explicit inclusions in the opening, closing, and social statistics sessions. During the social statistics session, disability was strongly highlighted, and particularly positive was the push for the work of the Washington Group on Disability Statistics from some Member States/National Statistical Office (NSO) representatives.

John Pullinger representing the United Kingdom was the first to push for the Washington Group Short Set of Disability Questions calling it “the only show in town” as the tool to use for disaggregation of disability in the 2030 Agenda (see below for the full statement). Member States/NSOs that also explicitly supported the use of the Washington Group included Italy, Grenada in its national capacity and on behalf of CARICOM, Australia, Hungary, and Germany (in the opening session). Other Member States/NSOs that referred to the importance of disability statistics, but did not explicitly mention the Washington Group, included the Philippines, Cambodia, Barbados, South Africa, and the State of Palestine.

Furthermore, the UN Statistics Division hosted a disability statistics side event on “Improving Disability Statistics in the context of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.” Jennifer Madans from the Washington Group on Disability Statistics presented on behalf of the United States and within her presentation highlighted the successful work of the Washington Group in the US context. Other presenters included NSO representatives from Uganda and Myanmar, whom both discussed the use of the Washington Group Short Set of Disability Questions in the statistical work at their respective national levels.

As a way forward, UN Statistics Division Director Stefan Schweinfest, provided a concise closing oral report in which he listed priorities for the work ahead regarding statistics. These include to:

Challenges included the need to:

  • Have constant discussion between statisticians and policy makers as the latter are the “holders of the purse” and the “setters of the agenda”
  • Build mutual respect and cooperation (connection from local to global) with international agencies, about which Schweinfest is “fiercely optimistic”
  • Work with civil society and the private sector (some have “trepidation because we don’t know each other,” but statistics should be about “joyful cooperation” and this can be done if we clearly agree on a division of labor with comparative advantages; and the Global Action Plan is a good tool for everyone to “find their place in the sun.”)

In closing, I’d like to echo Stefan Schweinfest’s words that “data can be the glue of the entire agenda” and in recognizing this it is important that we continue to collaborate so we all find our place in the sun in this agenda.

 

Social Statistics Statements on Disability Statistics (in order of presentation and not verbatim)

Statement by the United Kingdom, John Pullinger (at the 19-minute mark):

I too would just want to speak on one item, and that is the item relating to disability statistics. I think the work program here is very good and very positive on what has been done, but I would urge the Statistics Division to extend their ambition in the work program for 2017 in two respects. First, there has been outstanding work done by the WHO and the Washington Group to really understand the parameters of disability and help decision makers make sense of diverse and complex problems. I hope during the coming year in the work program proposed that the Statistics Division can give good guidance on how those instruments can be used in social survey programs, but also in individual country programs, which are many and varied. But the main point I’d wish to make is the link between disability questions and the Agenda 2030, and particularly on the issue of disaggregation. In that area, it is absolutely vital that we have a very simple framework for enabling people with disabilities to be counted so that none of them are left behind. And here, I think there is only “one show in town” and that is the short set of questions developed by the Washington Group that enables social survey operators to get simple classificatory data on disability that would enable their voice to be heard. And I would hope that the statistical division would be able to give clarity and guidance on this matter.

  • Italy strongly recommended a better relationship with Washington Group and the UNSD and highlighted the regional meetings of the Washington Group and that they provide capacity building (huge theme this UNSC) and technical assistance worldwide.
  • The Philippines supported the UNSD on disability statistics and its plans
  • Cambodia included the importance of disability statistics
  • Barbados included the need for disability statistics
  • Grenada on behalf of CARICOM – aligned with the UK’s statement and supported the use of the Washington Group short set and also highlighted the disability work with the Washington Group in the region and in Grenada.
  • Pali Lehohla, South Africa’s Statistician-General and Head of Statistics South Africa on behalf of South Africa supported disability statistics in his statement.
  • Australia supported the Washington Group as pragmatic and supported its further use in disability statistics.
  • Hungary supported the disability statistics work and the Washington Group, which also helps population and ageing.
  • The State of Palestine stated it would be useful to identify a particular framework on disability statistics.

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