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Let’s get counting: the Disability Measurement in Household Surveys Guidebook is out!

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An estimated one billion people worldwide live with a disability. In many low-income countries, persons with disabilities are excluded from participating in socio-economic opportunities due to social and environmental barriers, including the lack of assistive technologies. The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development recognizes, for the first time, the importance of including persons with disabilities as a priority for reaching the goal of leaving no one behind and promoting high-quality disability data collection to better identify challenges and solutions that can improve their lives.

Photo: M.Sabury
Source: M. Sabury

Responding to the urgent need for accelerated action at scale to achieve disability-inclusive development, the World Bank announced 10 new commitments, including one on scaling up disability data collection by incorporating the core set of the Washington Group disability questions (WG-SS) in household surveys, census and more (see the recent Haishan Fu, et al.’s blog A billion people experience disabilities worldwide — so where’s the data? for the full list of World Bank initiatives). Including the WG-SS in household surveys and census allows us to capture disability data disaggregated by participation levels in education, em­ployment, family, and civic life, enabling analysis on the access to equal opportunities for work and school for persons with disabilities.

Measuring Disability in Household Surveys: Four Key Recommendations

As the World Bank is moving towards a consistent methodology for collecting disability data, the Living Standards Measurement Study (LSMS) team has been working with the World Bank’s Social Development Global Practice to develop the Disability Measurement in Household Surveys Guidebook which offers to the World Bank staff and survey practitioners a set of practical recommendations on how to collect high-quality data on disability by incorporating the WG-SS questions into household surveys and census. Some of those recommendations include:

  • Adopting the WG standard definition of ‘disability’

The WG-SS questions capture an individual’s difficulties in executing basic activities in six core functional domains, such as ‘seeing’, ‘hearing’, ‘walking’, ‘remembering’, ‘self-caring’, and ‘communicating’. Each domain is measured on four levels of difficulty, ‘No, no difficulty’, ‘Yes, some difficulty’, ‘Yes, a lot of difficulty’, or ‘Cannot do it at all’. The Guidebook recommends defining people with disabilities as those with at least one domain reported as ‘Yes, a lot of difficulty’ or ‘Cannot do at all’.

  • Using the WG-SS to measure disability prevalence in children 5 years old and above

The WG-SS should be administrated to a general population 5 years of age and above. Though it may result in an underestimation of the disability prevalence among children and adolescents, it will at least provide an indication of the child functioning without increasing the survey costs of including the full stand-alone WG-Child Functioning Module.

  • Placing the WG-SS not at the end of the household questionnaire

The WG-SS questions should be included as a subsection of the health section or immediately after or with the demographic module collecting information on household family members. The Guidebook does not recommend incorporating the WG-SS questions at the end of the household questionnaire because it would negatively affect disability data collection.

  • Ensuring empathy and appropriate terminology

Extra attention should be given during training sessions by encouraging enumerators to have empathic interactions with respondents with disabilities. This also includes using appropriate terminology and avoiding terms such as ‘disabilities’, ‘handicaps’, and ‘suffering’, which are not mentioned in the WG-SS questions and have negative connotations that may result in the underreporting of conditions. Ensuring official translations of the WG-SS questions is also crucial in order to avoid this risk.

The old cliché of ‘what gets measured, gets done’ rings true. The message is clear: having reliable disability data gives us the information on what needs to be done, where it needs to be done and often how it needs to be done. Check out the Guidebook for more information


Valentina Costa

Consultant, Data Production & Methods, DECDG, World Bank

Marco Tiberti

Economist, Living Standards Measurement Study (LSMS), World Bank

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