The need for comparable population-based measures of disability for individual country use and for international comparisons was recognized in June of 2001 at the United Nations International Seminar on the Measurement of Disability. This determination was based on the scarcity and general poor quality of data on disability, especially in developing countries, and the lack of internationally comparable measures, even among developed countries. The Washington Group on Disability Statistics was formed to address this urgent need.
The main purpose of the Washington Group is to promote and co-ordinate international co-operation in the area of health statistics focusing on disability measures suitable for censuses and national surveys. The major objective is to develop tools to collect the basic data necessary to provide information on disability that is comparable throughout the world. The first priority of the Washington Group was to guide the development of a short set of disability measures suitable for use in censuses, sample-based national surveys, or other statistical formats, for the primary purpose of informing policy on equalization of opportunities for the population with disabilities. A second priority was to recommend one or more extended sets of survey items that elaborate the measurement of the multiple concepts associated with disability for use as components of population surveys, as supplements to surveys or as the core of a disability survey. The extended sets of survey items will be connected to the short set of disability measures. The disability measures recommended by the group are accompanied by descriptions of their technical properties, as well as methodological guidance for their implementation and their applicability to all population subgroups.
To date, the Washington Group has met nine times, in: Washington DC, USA (2002); Ottawa, Canada (2003); Brussels, Belgium (2004); Bangkok, Thailand (2004); Rio de Janeiro, Brazil (2005); Kampala, Uganda (2006); Dublin, Ireland (2007), Manila, the Philippines (2008) and most recently in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania (2009). The 10th meeting will be held in Luxembourg in 2010. All National Statistical Offices are eligible for membership in the Washington Group. Currently, representatives from 116 National Statistical Offices have formally indicated their interest in participating in the Washington Group (82 have attended at least one annual meeting of the group), as well as representatives from other international organizations, organizations that represent persons with disabilities (DPOs), the United Nations Statistical Division (UNSD), and other UN affiliates. The Secretariat for the Washington Group is located at the National Center for Health Statistics, USA. Details of the Washington Group organization, history and accomplishments are available online at: http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/citygroup.htm
. In addition, the site provides access to lists of participants, proceedings from the meetings (presentations and papers), reports to the UN Statistical Commission and information on upcoming meetings.
The Washington Group has also fostered international cooperation by working with the UNSD, WHO, UN Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (UNESCAP), UN Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia, UN Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE), International Labor Organization , Organization for Economic Development and Co-operation, Inter-American Development Bank, World Bank, Eurostat, the Budapest Initiative, SINTEF (an independent Norwegian research institute), and others to promote a unified approach to disability measurement. Several World Bank data instruments have been heavily influenced by the work of the Washington Group (in India and Uzbekistan), and SINTEF has been working in Africa to conduct independent tests of the Washington Group questions. In addition, the UNESCAP and WHO, in partnership with the Australian Bureau of Statistics, conducted pilot studies on the Washington Group short set of questions and the longer set of WHO questions. The study results were presented and discussed during the fifth and sixth Washington Group meetings. The Washington Group has also been informed that the question set has been pre-tested or added to surveys in at least 11 countries. The Group has embarked upon a collaboration with UNESCAP for the cognitive and field testing of the first extended set of questions in six participating UNESCAP countries. Cognitive testing is also taking place in Europe through the Granada Group. Finally, the Washington Group continues to dialogue with the World Bank in matters of common interest and in attempts to secure funding for further activities in the testing and development of extended sets of questions on disability in other regions.
The Washington Group has built capacity for disability data collection in developing countries by training government statisticians on disability measurement methodology. Regional training meetings held in Kenya (June, 2005) and Brazil (September, 2005) were an integral part of this effort. Presently, countries that received training are working internally to improve their overall approaches to dealing with the issue of disability measurement through ongoing data collection activities. Other capacity building and training activities have included:
a) UNECE Workshop on Disability Statistics in Special Programme for the Economies of Central Asia (SPECA) member countries (Bishkek, Kyrgyz Republic, 13-15 December 2006). The aim of the Training Workshop was to introduce participants to the best practices on Disability Statistics and to develop expertise in methodologies of measurement of the health status of the population. Health statistics directors and staff engaged in the measurement of disabilities in the national statistical offices and ministries of health in Central Asia and Azerbaijan attended.
b) Joint UNECE-UNFPA (United Nations Population Fund) Training Workshop on Census Management in South East Europe (Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina, 18-22 February 2008).
c) Workshop on Strengthening Capacity for Disability Measurement across South Asia sponsored by the World Bank and a Regional Workshop on Promoting Disability Data Collection through the 2010 Population and Housing Censuses sponsored by the United Nations in Bangkok, Thailand (April, 2008).
d) Joint UNECE-UNFPA Regional Training Workshop on Population and Housing Censuses for South Eastern European countries held in Ohrid, Macedonia (November 2008). The workshop was organized for senior professionals/experts from the State Statistical Offices of Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Kosovo, Macedonia, Montenegro, Romania, and Serbia. The Washington Group was responsible for a full day training session including the measurement of disability in censuses and interpreting and understanding disability as measured using the Washington Group short set of questions.
e) In August/September 2009, at the request of the World Bank, the Washington Group assisted the Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics through a training workshop designed to provide an understanding of disability and functioning using the ICF-based Washington Group approach, and implementing the Washington Group short set of questions in their national Household Income and Expenditure Survey and in preparation for the 2010 census.
In addition to funding countries to conduct the tests, the Washington Group used a World Bank grant to employ a consultant from January to June 2006 to provide technical training and to support national statistics offices engaged in test activities. In-person technical support was provided to two African national statistical offices. Assistance via phone and email was provided to countries in Africa and South America as well as Viet Nam, the Philippines, and India.