2.6 Implications of a global aging population

Many commentators have predicted that the actual figures of persons with disabilities worldwide may be higher than these estimates. Figure 2.2 shows the share of persons 50 years and older by region. Another factor likely to influence the numbers of person with disabilities is the increase in percentages of older people in the world population and the associated prevalence of age-related disabilities.

Figure 2.2: Share of 50+ population by region

Source: World Population Prospects 2008

People are likely to develop new difficulties and impairments as they age – whether they are sensory (vision and hearing), cognitive (thinking and communication) or motor (locomotion, reach and stretch, and dexterity). Likewise, people with existing mild difficulties and impairments may experience an increase in their severity. In any population in which the age profile is getting older, the total number of people with difficulties and impairments will increase.62

The steadily increasing population of people over the age of 65 brings with it a reduction in the “old-age dependency ratio” (ODR).63 The ODR is the ratio of people aged 15-64 in the population per one person aged 65 or older in the population. In 1950 the worldwide ODR was 12:1; in 2000 the ODR was 9:1; by 2050 it is expected to be 4:1 globally. Figure 2.3 shows these dependency ratios for various types of economies.

Figure 2.3 Old Age Dependency Ratios

Source: World Population Prospects 2008

Population data from the UN’s “World Population Prospectus 2008” shows that the less-developed regions (not including the least-developed countries) are projected to have the steepest growth in their old-age dependency ratios over the next 40 years. These regions are likely to experience a 200 per cent increase in the ratio of people over 65 to those of workforce age (age 15-64) between 2000 and 2050, as compared to the slightly more than 100 per cent increase predicted for the more developed regions and the slightly less than 100 per cent increase in the least-developed countries.

The bottom line is that many developing regions in the world will experience a steep increase in the numbers of people working to support those not working due to old age. With an increasing dependency ratio comes an increasing requirement for workforce productivity. Enabling persons with disabilities to access education -- and ultimately become employees through the use of accessible ICTs --will help offset this increasing dependency. The ITU/G3ict “e-Accessibility Policy Toolkit for Persons with Disabilities” provides guidance to policy-makers on calculating the benefits to a national economy of a more productive workforce enabled through the use of accessible ICTs.64


62Anne-Rivers Forcke, IBM, in ITU/G3ict “e-Accessibility Policy Toolkit for Persons with Disabilities”

63United Nation’s Programme on Ageing

64 ITU/G3ict, “e-Accessibility Policy Toolkit for Persons with Disabilities”, Increasing productivity, available at http://www.e-accessibilitytoolkit.org/toolkit/who_benefits/global_demographics