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World Disabilities Report Highlights Challenges Facing Millions

The first-ever world report on disabilities highlights the tremendous barriers - in education, health care, transportation, and jobs that many face

The first-ever world report on disabilities highlights the barriers facing millions of handicapped people living on this planet - and ways to overcome them.

More than a billion people on earth live with some kind of disability. That's 15 percent of the population - and their numbers are growing. Many face tremendous barriers - in education, health care, transportation, jobs ... even having their voices heard.

Those are some of the findings in the first-ever World Report on Disability, published jointly by the World Health Organization and The World Bank - and released on Thursday.

Etienne Krug, director of WHO's Department of Violence, Injury Prevention and Disability, says that while conditions facing disabled people vary from country to country, basic problems remain the same. "In all countries, there is still stigma and discrimination. In all countries there are still challenges to access - like transportation or public building or access to school and employment," he stated.

The fallout, according to the new study; people with disabilities are likely to have poorer health outcomes, lower educational achievements, less participation in the economy and higher poverty rates.

But some disabled people have managed to escape this fate, becoming brilliant leaders in their societies. World renowned British physicist Stephen Hawking is completely paralyzed from motor neuron disease. Yet he notes, in the report's foreword, his disability has not prevented him from having a successful career and happy family life.

While a number of developed nations are crafting better policies and programs for the disabled, Krug also cites a number of developing ones. Brazil is one example. Mozambique is another.

"In Mozambique, a very poor country has developed rehabilitation efforts. Trained people to rehabilitation and developed rehabilitation services throughout the country," Krug said.

The report offers a number of recommendations on ways to improve disabled peoples' access to health, education, transportation and jobs. Also key: giving the disabled a voice in decision-making.

Krug says the study is also a wake-up call for all of us. "First of all, because we might become disabled one day as we age or face disabilities in our family in other ways," he said.

For WHO and the World Bank, Krug says the report amounts to an agenda for action over the next 10 years - to ensure that its recommendations are realized.