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UN Programme on Disability   Working for full participation and equality
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Theme: Statistics, Data and Evaluation, and Monitoring
Programme Monitoring and Evaluation; The Disability Perspective in the Context of Development

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IV. DEVELOPMENT OF "GLOBAL DISABILITY INDICATORS"

B.  Issues in the construction of indicators (2/2)

3. Indicators of the economic activity of disabled persons

The measurement of economic activity is a variable that traditionally has had some basis in gender with higher labour force participation rates reported for men than women. Tunisia provides a case study for the results of the increasing prevalence of disability reported for women 15 years of age and over. Between 1975 and 1994, reported economic activity rates for disabled Tunisians declined slightly. However, as shown figure 14, the rate for men actually increased over the period. The rate for women declined by over 70 per cent.

Figure 14. ECONOMIC ACTIVITY RATES BY GENDER FOR
DISABLED PERSONS 15 YEARS OF AGE AND OVER,
TUNISIA, 1975, 1984 AND 1994

fig14.gif (3120 bytes)

Gender 1975 1984* 1994
Total 15.9 14.3 14.3
Males 15.5 17.5 19.5
Females 19.9 12.8 5.7

*Note: The rates for males and females for 1984 are interpolated due to lack of data for that year.

Sources: Tunisia, Institut national de la statistique, Recensement general de la population et des logements, 8 Mai 1975, Volume III, Caracteristiques demographiques, tableaux et analyses des resultats du sondage au 1/10eme75 (Tunis, Author, 1975) and Recensement general de la population et de l'habitat, 30 Mars 1984, Volume IV, Caracteristiques demographiques (Tunis, Author, 1984).

Two factors come into play to explain what appears to be a lack of progress in economic activity. First, if economic activity rates tend to be lower for women than for men as they were reported in 1994, the increasing prevalence of women in the disabled population could have the effect of lowering the overall rate of labour force participation for persons with disabilities. Second, the participation rate for women in 1975 was higher than for men, suggesting that the 1975 female disabled population was undercounted to such an extent that those who were counted formed a population that may have not been truly representative. Between 1975 and 1994, the number of reported disabled women in the labour force grew from 610 to 1,910 in Tunisia, actually more than tripling.

Without a clear understanding of how the disabled population changed during this period, an economic activity indicator activity could be misinterpreted. One might conclude that participation in the labour force had deteriorated in Tunisia between 1975 and 1994 when the reverse may have been true. Certainly, an understanding of the characteristics of the women who entered the disabled over the period aids in interpreting the indicator.

Returning to Zambia, the removal of sick persons from the disabled population in 1990 influences interpretation of the trend in economic activity. Labour force participation rates rose for all men and women between 1980 and 1990. For women, the rate almost doubled from 16 to 32 per cent. For sick and disabled women, the rate does not increase by as much, growing from 13 per cent to 23 per cent. However, as shown in figure 15, if only disabled women are counted in 1980, the rate more than doubles from 10 per cent to 23 per cent. While less dramatic, the inclusion of sick men in 1980 inflates the rate for men.

It is also important that the definition of economic activity does not change over time. An issue here is that disability has, in many countries, been counted as a category of non-participation in the labour force. To have a robust indicator, the disability as a reason for non-participation in the labour force category has to be disassociated from measures of the disabled population. If not, an effect of multi-collinearity would occur, where the dependent variable, or the indicator in this case, is so highly correlated with disabled persons that it is influencing the trends in the indicator.

How progress is measured in terms of economic activity and other indicators is also very important. For instance, even after the removal of the sick in 1980 data for Zambia doubles the rate for disabled women, the difference in rates between disabled and all women in 1990 is greater in 1990 than in 1980. Thus, the faster growth in rate for disabled women than for all women can be viewed as progress but the increasing disparity in the rates could be viewed as a lack of progress. In light of this, a country needs to determine how rates will be interpreted and what is expected. Then, the indicator is judged in terms of progress towards targets and not in terms of arguments over statistical interpretations.

Figure 15. ECONOMIC ACTIVITY RATES BY GENDER FOR ALL AND
DISABLED PERSONS 12 YEARS OF AGE AND OVER,
ZAMBIA, 1980 AND 1990 AND FOR SICK AND DISABLED
PERSONS, ZAMBIA, 1980

Two bar charts.  See data tables below.

Males 1980 1990
Total 49.5 62.2
Sick and Disabled 35.1
DIsabled Only 30.2 38.6
Females 1980 1990
Total 16.1 31.9
Sick and Disabled 12.9
DIsabled Only 10.0 22.7

4. Indicators of educational results for disabled persons

Educational indicators are subject to all the issues discussed thus far. Its patterns may be highly dependent on age and gender, as well as issues as to how a society measures educational variables. When viewed in this light, a clear indicator for examination is the percentage of persons with some education, which is the inverse of the percentage who have no education. While such a measure might not be used in a country where education is relatively universal, it is a critical variable in a country where education historically is a scarce commodity. As shown in figure 16, the majority of Zambians had received no formal education in 1980. By 1990, the situation for both men and women had improved dramatically. For persons with disabilities, the improvement is only slight, with a majority still receiving no education. As noted earlier, the indicator of receiving at least some primary education may be more a critical measure for disabled persons in a developing country, such as Zambia, than indicators of higher level of education. Note also that in 1980, disabled men had a higher percentage with at least a primary education than all women had. By 1990, the reverse was true. Such a situation reflects the great progress in raising the educational levels of women during the period.

Figure 16. PERCENTAGE WITH SOME EDUCATION BY GENDER FOR
ALL AND DISABLED PERSONS 5 YEARS OF AGE AND OVER,
ZAMBIA, 1980 AND 1990

Two line charts.  See data tables below.

Year All Persons Disabled Persons
1980 47.4 39.0
1990 62.5 42.5
Year All Men Disabled Men All Women Disabled Women
1980 52.8 47.0 42.1 30.7
1990 68.2 49.4 57.1 34.5

Even in a country where substantial progress is being made the, the indicator reflecting the reduction of no education retains its relevance. As shown in Figure 17 for Tunisia, rate of receipt of at least some primary education grew dramatically between 1975 and 1994. Because of the emphasis of programmes for women, it is desirable for both educational attainment percentages and economic activity rates to show indicators for men and women separately.

An important issue for countries to consider is the age grouping for the indicator. If educational programmes are not targeted to persons above a certain age, then there is slight chance that the educational attainment of persons above that age will increase. Hence, if a country has not committed to adult education programmes, indicators may be most applicable to persons under the age of 25 years. Here indicators of school attendance may be considered in place of overall educational attainment.

For a developed country, more specific indicators may be warranted. Here, too, it is critical that the indicators remain constant over time. For example, in Canada, the numbers of children 5 to 14 years of age with disabilities who receiving education grew extensively between 1986 and 1991, as shown in Figure 18. The number receiving education grew by 39 per cent and the number receiving regular education grew 46 per cent. Such an indicator could be viewed most positively.

Figure 17. PERCENTAGE WITH SOME EDUCATION BY GENDER FOR
DISABLED PERSONS 10 YEARS OF AGE AND OVER,
TUNISIA, 1975 AND 1994

Bar chart.  See data tables below.

Gender 1975 1994
Total, Both Sexes 12.8 31.7
Males 16.2 39.2
Females 7.2 19.6

Figure 18. NUMBER IN DIFFERENT EDUCATIONAL PLACEMENTS
FOR DISABLED CHILDREN 5 TO 14 YEARS OF AGE,
CANADA, 1986 AND 1991

Bar chart.  See data tables below.

1986 1991
Regular school 108,313 158,033
Special classes 65,185 100,814
Special school 12,195 13,624
Attends but unknown 10,812 0
Not in education 12,960 9,555
Attendance unknown 4,495 22,265

Sources: Avard, Denise, Children and Youth with Disabilities in Canada: The 1986 Health and Activity Limitation Survey (Ottawa, Statistics Canada, 1996), p. 37, Tables 5.9 and 5.10 and Children and youth with disability, Chapter 8 in The Health of Canada's Children: A CICH Profile (Ottawa, Canadian Institute of Child Health, 1997), pp. 158-159, Tables 8.14 and 8.15.

Some of this growth could be caused by children who are educated in the regular classroom being newly classified as disabled over the period. If so, percentages must be examined. In Canada's case, such a percentage indicator appears to show a slight drop in the percentage receiving education from 92 to 90 per cent, as shown in figure 19. However, the 1986 survey reported some children as attending school or being tutored but their placement was unknown. In 1991, these children were reported with other unknown children. Without this reporting, the effect of this is to assume all unknown children are not attending school and is inconsistent over the time period. When the unknowns are removed from the calculation, the percentage receiving some education rises from 94 per cent to 96 per cent.

Figure 19. PERCENTAGE RECEIVING EDUCATION ADJUSTED FOR
THOSE WITH UNKNOWN EDUCATIONAL PLACEMENTS
FOR DISABLED CHILDREN 5 TO 14 YEARS OF AGE,
CANADA, 1986 AND 1991

Bar charts. See data tables below.

  1986 1991 Adjusted 1986 Adjusted 1991
Receiving Education 196,575 272,470 185,763 272,470
Not in Education 12,960 9,555 12,960 9,555
Education Unknown 4,495 22,265    

Sources: Avard, Denise, Children and Youth with Disabilities in Canada: The 1986 Health and Activity Limitation Survey (Ottawa, Statistics Canada, 1996), p. 37, Tables 5.9 and 5.10 and Children and youth with disability, Chapter 8 in The Health of Canada's Children: A CICH Profile (Ottawa, Canadian Institute of Child Health, 1997), pp. 158-159, Tables 8.14 and 8.15.

Again, this is not an argument that the unknowns must be removed. It is an argument that they must be categorized in the same way over time or the indicator will be misleading. The Canadian data also point to the development of new indicators. When education is becoming universal, indicators of attendance at a regular school may become more useful. If that becomes universal, then attendance in a regular class should be considered.

5. Competing priorities

Virtually all the examples from the case studies appear to establish a cardinal rule that under no circumstances should the indicators be changed. Given all the changes that have occurred in the disability field, this rule can appear to be unreasonable. If the view towards disability has been and continues to be changing over time, then the population included as disabled will change. This establishes a tension between establishing indicators to measure progress over time and establishing indicators that retain their policy relevance over time.

A technical solution to this tension is to try, when changes are made, to measure both the old and new way. Thus, the effect of the change in definition can be established and adjusted in the examination of indicators over time. In the case studies, adjustments were made, such as dropping the sick from the 1980 Zambian data and dropping the unknowns from the Canadian data in 1986 and 1991. The effect of the low prevalence disability rate for women in Tunisia in 1975 presented a more difficult problem.

Another tension arises from the lack of environmental and access indicator data. Nevertheless, the data on school placement for Canada can be viewed as an indicator of social integration for children. As these indicators are refined in developed countries, developing countries should consider adopting some of these as indicators. For now, basic indicators of education and employment should be considered. If countries can adopt some indicators in these two areas with concrete targets, not only will they serve as a useful tool for monitoring but they also may serve as a device to prompt progress towards equalization of opportunities.

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United Nations, 2003-04
Department of Economic and Social Affairs
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