Adolescents with disabilities: enhancing resilience and delivering inclusive development
Around the world, there are between 93 million and 150 million children and adolescents with disabilities. An estimated 80% live in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs), where 80% of persons with disabilities live below the poverty line. While we know that adolescents with disabilities are far more likely than their peers without disabilities to be denied their basic rights to education, health, recreation and general wellbeing, research aimed at exploring their needs and identifying how best to support their transitions from childhood to adulthood is nascent. Even as adolescence has been recognised by scientists and development actors alike as a key window of opportunity, given the rapid physical, psycho-emotional, cognitive and social changes that occur during the second decade of life, and even as disability has moved up the development agenda as part of the ‘leave no one behind’ mandate, adolescents with disabilities have remained largely invisible in policy, programming, and research. The estimated costs of inaction are staggering. For example, in Bangladesh the estimated costs of foregone schooling by children with disabilities amount to $26.2 million per annum due to lower lifetime earnings; while in the case of caregivers (usually women) with caring responsibilities for family members with disabilities the costs in terms of foregone income are estimated to reach $234 million per annum.
This policy note summarises key findings from a new Gender and Adolescence: Global Evidence (GAGE) report which takes stock of current evidence from a thematic evidence review on the wellbeing of adolescents in LMICs combined with survey and qualitative research baseline studies in Bangladesh, Ethiopia, Jordan and Palestine. The research involved more than 6,000 adolescents and their caregivers – including approximately 600 girls and boys with physical, visual, hearing or intellectual impairments, alongside service providers and policy actors. Importantly, the report draws attention to the multiple and intersecting capabilities that need to be supported in order for adolescents with disabilities in LMICs to reach their full potential. It goes beyond a focus on their access to education and health services, and also considers their rights to psychosocial wellbeing, protection from violence, mobility and opportunities to participate within their communities, as well the skills, assets and support they need to become economically independent once they transition into adulthood.