Persons with disabilities

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Social protection plays a key role in realizing the rights of persons with disabilities of all ages: providing them with an adequate standard of living, a basic level of income security; thus reducing levels of poverty and vulnerability. Moreover, mainstream and/or specific social protection schemes concerning persons with disabilities can have a major role in promoting their independence and inclusion by meeting their specific needs and supporting their social participation in a non-discriminatory manner. These social protection measures may include poverty reduction schemes, cash transfer programmes, social and health insurance, public work programmes, housing programmes, disability pensions and mobility grants.

Social protection from a rights-based approach must accommodate the needs of persons with disabilities. Traditional disability-related social welfare schemes have mainly focused on poverty rather than taking into account specific challenges faced by persons with disabilities; particularly active participation in education, access to health and employment. Previous methods of addressing benefits for persons with disabilities have shown limited progress in overcoming the deeply-rooted social structures and practices that hinder opportunities for persons with disabilities. Consequently, social protection needs to move beyond traditional welfare approaches to intervention systems that promote active citizenship, social inclusion and community participation while avoiding paternalism and dependence.

The right of persons with disabilities to social protection is recognized by the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), the 1966 International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) and, more specifically, the 2006 UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD). Article 28 of the CRPD in particular recognizes the right of persons with disabilities to an adequate standard of living and to social protection, ensuring the enjoyment of both rights without discrimination on the basis of ability. Therefore, States parties should take appropriate measures to ensure that they receive equal access to mainstream social protection programmes and services —including basic services, social security systems, poverty reduction programmes and housing programmes—  but also specific programmes and services for disability-related needs and expenses.

Furthermore, the Social Protection Floors Recommendation (No. 202) recognizes the importance of national social protection floors to provide basic social security guarantees to all persons, including persons with disabilities, across the life cycle (with priority given to poverty, vulnerability, and social exclusion). Recently, as a result of the global financial and economic crisis, some high-income countries have begun contracting out their social security systems. These measures, taken by the State, have a compound effect and disproportionately impact persons with disabilities. In contrast, many middle and low-income countries have begun strengthening their social protection systems and adopting a number of programmes and counter cyclical measures to reduce poverty, exclusion and inequality especially among vulnerable populations.


Photo credit: “Africa’s disabled will not be forgotten” by Africa Renewal (CCBY 2.0 via Flickr)


Expert Commentaries

Are Cash Transfers a Means to Promote “Meaningful” Independent Living for Persons with Disabilities?

Despite progress made around disability and social policy in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs), there are still concerns that cash transfers in developing contexts may reinforce perceptions that persons with disabilities are dependent and incapable of work, rather than being a mechanism for meeting their needs and facilitating their empowerment.   Independent living as part […]

Social Protection for Indigenous Persons with Disabilities

Worldwide, the prevalence of disability tends to be higher within indigenous communities than among non-indigenous groups.1 This high prevalence of disability is both a cause and a consequence of severe poverty, violence and unsafe living conditions, including exposure to environmental degradation, toxic waste and the adverse impacts of development project.2 Indigenous persons with disabilities are […]


Inclusion of Vulnerable Groups

As a human right that is intrinsic to all, the international community recognizes the need to design and implement social protection systems according to the principle of social inclusion, underlying the particular need to include persons in the informal economy (Recommendation No. 202, para 3e). Delivery systems should therefore be particularly attuned to the challenges […]

Legal Instruments

Inter-American Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Persons with Disabilities

This Convention is a regional human rights instruments. It requires States to fully integrate persons with disabilities into all aspects of society through legislation and without discrimination.   Link to act Link to act (Spanish)

Convention on Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD), 2006

Article 28: Adequate standard of living and social protection 1. States Parties recognize the right of persons with disabilities to an adequate standard of living for themselves and their families, including adequate food, clothing and housing, and to the continuous improvement of living conditions, and shall take appropriate steps to safeguard and promote the realization […]

Social Protection Floors Recommendation, 2012 (No. 202)

Recommendation No. 202 is the first international instrument to offer guidance to countries to close social security gaps and progressively achieve universal protection through the establishment and maintenance of comprehensive social security systems. To this aim, the Recommendation calls for (1) the implementation, as a priority, of social protection floors (SPF) as a fundamental element […]

Legal Cases

Persons with Disabilities’ Right to Self-Determination in Bulgaria

Nature of the Case A Bulgarian individual challenged his indefinite and involuntary placement under partial guardianship and in a remote psychiatric institute, in degrading conditions. Summary Rusi Kosev Stanev was diagnosed with schizophrenia in 1975 and declared unfit to work in 1990. In 2000, following a request from his stepmother and half-sister, a court declared […]

Access to abortion for poor, disabled woman amid conscientious objection in Argentina

Summary: The communication was filed by the mother of a woman with a mental impairment amounting to a legal age of a child, concerning the response of public health and judicial institutions to her pregnancy resulting from rape.  After being refused by one hospital, a second hospital scheduled an abortion but was later blocked by […]

Educational opportunities for persons with disabilities in Colombia

Summary: The case was brought before the Constitutional Court of Colombia by the mother of a girl who was diagnosed with cognitive deficit and microcephaly. She contended that the official combined programme of therapy and special education were unaffordable to her. The Court referred to Article 12 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and […]


WWDA Human Rights Toolkit for Women and Girls with Disability

Over two million women and girls with disability live in Australia – that’s approximately 20 percent of all women and girls. Like everyone else, we all have different lives and experiences. We also have different personal experiences of disability. As a group, however, women and girls with disability experience unfair treatment in many areas of our […]

World Report on Disability

This report focuses on measures to improve accessibility and equality of opportunity; promoting participation and inclusion; and increasing respect for the autonomy and dignity of persons with disabilities. Chapter 1 defines terms such as disability, discusses prevention and its ethical considerations, introduces the International Classification of Functioning, Disability and Health (ICF) and the CRPD, and […]

Social Protection for Persons with Disabilities

Persons with disabilities have faced exclusionpreventing them from fully enjoying their right to social protection under the previous welfarist model. In this video, Facundo Chavez Penillas from the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) discusses states’ obligation to ensure that social protection systems are fully inclusive of persons with disabilities.

Disability and Social Protection Programmes in Low- and Middle-Income Countries: A systematic review

This paper systematically reviews the evidence on whether persons with disabilities in low- and middle-income countries are adequately included in social protection programmes, and assesses the financial and non-financial impacts of participation. Overall, we found that access to social protection appears to fall far below need. Benefits from participation are mostly limited to maintaining minimum […]

Report on the Right of Persons with Disabilities to Social Protection (A/70/297), submitted by the Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, Catalina Devandas

In the present report, the Special Rapporteur, Catalina Devandas-Aguilar, provides a study focusing on disability-inclusive social protection as a prerequisite for the universalization of social protection. She stresses that social protection is fundamental for achieving the social inclusion and active participation of persons with disabilities, and promoting their active citizenship. She also argues that to […]

Disability in the Arab Region. An Overview

Disability is an intrinsic aspect of the human condition and most people will experience disability at some point in their lives. Globally, one billion people—or 15 per cent of the world population—are estimated to be living with disability. By contrast, Arab countries report comparatively low prevalence of disability, ranging from 0.4 to 4.9 per cent […]

Inclusive Social Protection Toolbox (GIZ)

Persons with disabilities have the same rights as everyone else to protection from basic social and economic risks and to access appropriate services, regardless of their disability or gender. This website helps give you the tools to design inclusive social protection systems.

CESCR General Comment No. 5: Persons with disabilities

This general comment was adopted by the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights in 1995. With regard to social security, it sets out the following: “28. Social security and income‑maintenance schemes are of particular importance for persons with disabilities. As stated in the Standard Rules, “States should ensure the provision of adequate income support to persons with […]

The State of the World’s Children: Children with Disabilities

The 2013 edition of The State of the World’s Children is dedicated to the situation of children with disabilities. The report examines the barriers – from inaccessible buildings to dismissive attitudes, from invisibility in official statistics to vicious discrimination – that deprive children with disabilities of their rights and keep them from participating fully in […]

Joint report of the independent expert on the question of human rights and extreme poverty, Magdalena Sepúlveda Carmona, and the independent expert on the issue of human rights obligations related to access to safe drinking water and sanitation, Catarina de Albuquerque: Mission to Bangladesh (A /HRC/15/55)

In the report, the independent expert on water and sanitation highlights the problems relating to sanitation, water quality and availability, and menstrual hygiene. The independent expert on extreme poverty focuses on social protection programmes for education, women, older persons, emergency relief and decent work, and points out the challenges to the effective implementation of these […]


Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Presents Report to the General Assembly

The Special Rapporteur on the rights of persons with disabilities, Catalina Devandas, presented her first report in September at the 70th session of the General Assembly.  The report aims to provide guidance and recommendations to states and other responsible actors for creating disability-inclusive social protection systems. The report touches on key issues related to providing […]

International expert meeting on the right of persons with disabilities to social protection

Access to social security is a crucial element of inclusive societies. For persons living with disabilities, it plays an especially important role in providing an adequate standard of living and basic income security, thereby reducing vulnerability and levels of poverty. This expert meeting held in Berlin on 20 May 2015, brought together policy makers, researchers, […]