On 11 March 2016, in an opinion piece for the Belfast Telegraph, Chief Commissioner of the Equality Commission for Northern Ireland, Dr Michael Wardlow, commented on the challenges faced by disabled people in Northern Ireland, due to poor accessibility to many businesses. Dr Wardlow claimed that as many as 21% (360,000) people in Northern Ireland are currently living with a long-term illness or disability, and not only are they being drastically inconvenienced in their day-to-day lives, but businesses are excluding a large segment of their customer base.
Research over the past decade consistently supports this claim
There have been numerous surveys over the past decade which identify approximately 1 in 5 people as having a long-term condition or disability that limits their daily activities. The Northern Ireland Statistics & Research Agency (NISRA) published a report in 2007 that estimated the prevalence of disabilities among adults (over 16) at 21% (while the rate was significantly lower at 6% among children). The overall disability rate was found to be 18% across the entire population. The research was developed through the compilation of 23,000 questionnaires, 4,000 sit-down interviews, and 12,000 random address checks. This data was further backed up by the 2011 census, also carried out by NISRA, which showed that 21% of the normally resident population was living with a disability. The actual percentage of people with a long-term condition is significantly higher, at around 31%, but about a third of these respondents have not reported a negative impact on their abilities in daily life. These government statistics fully reinforce the claim made by Dr Wardlow in the Belfast Telegraph.
Are disabilities more prevalent in Northern Ireland than in the rest of the UK?
The data collected in Northern Ireland is generally on par with rates collected around the rest of the UK. The Family Resource Survey (FRS) estimated the overall disability rate in the UK in 2012 as 19%. Northern Ireland is not an exception, however, as there are fluctuations in disability rates around the UK, with the highest proportion as of 2011 in the North East Region at 21.6%.