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How to Collect Data on Disability in Education Programming

Written by: Amy Mulcahy-Dunn, Senior Evaluation Advisor

This article was originally posted by EducationLinks on September 25, 2019.  

The webinar and portal listed at the end of the article were developed and facilitated by the USAID Office of Education’s Data and Evidence for Education Programs (DEEP) activity, which EnCompass manages with partner Management Systems International. DEEP’s objective is to improve the quality, relevance, availability, accessibility, and use of education data and evidence, and, ultimately, to help cultivate improved and more equitable education programs around the globe. 


In recent years, there has been a paradigm shift in the way we perceive disability. Once regarded as a medical problem that requires fixing, disability is now largely viewed through a social construct lens, in which we acknowledge that society creates barriers—environmental, attitudinal and institutional—that limit the direct participation of persons with disabilities in the public sphere. 

Education is no stranger to these barriers; students with disabilities face numerous obstacles to accessing education. The first step toward addressing these barriers is to collect data on the prevalence of disability in the populations USAID programming serves. USAID’s Office of Education requires disaggregation by disability status for a number of standard indicators. To support the collection of disability disaggregated data, the Office of Education has developed guidance on how to collect data on youth’s and adult’s disability status in USAID education programming. Further, the Office of Education is currently engaging with implementing partners to support the measurement of disability status in children in the context of USAID education programming. 

Measuring Disability Status in Youth and Adults 

The foundation for USAID’s guidance on disability data collection for youth and adults is the Washington Group on Disability Statistics (WG) approach to collecting data on disability. Aligning with the World Health Organization’s conceptual framework for measuring disability, the WG created the WG Short Set of Questions on Disability (WG Short Set) to produce data comparable across countries, which helps standardize global data collection and ensure consistency in reporting on indicators. As of February 2018, 69 countries use this method, which has been validated for use with youth and adults. USAID implementing partners using the WG Short Set with youth or adults are encouraged to read USAID’s How To Note: Collecting Data on Disability in Education Programming. To increase the quality of data collected using the WG Short Set, partners are encouraged to understand and apply best practices for collecting data on disabilities before planning and implementing the tool.  

Measuring Disability Status in Children 

While the WG’s Child Functioning Module (WGCFM) has proven useful for collecting data on children’s disability status from children’s caregivers, obtaining data from caregivers is not always possible in USAID early grade education programming contexts. Thus, the Office of Education is working with partners and disability stakeholders to determine and validate a data collection method and tool for use in USAID early grade education programming. To achieve this goal, the Office of Education is mapping tools used to collect children’s disability status, analyzing data from those tools, and convening stakeholders to determine a way forward for measuring children’s disability status in the context of USAID education programming.  

A webinar hosted by USAID’s Office of Education provides details on how partners and disability stakeholders can contribute. Partners and stakeholders are encouraged to provide information on tools they have used to collect children’s disability status on this form.  

Image c/o USAID

Amy Mulcahy-Dunn

Senior Evaluation Advisor

Amy Mulcahy-Dunn is Chief of Party of USAID’s Data and Evidence for Education Programs (DEEP) and Senior Evaluation Advisor at EnCompass. A senior education manager and researcher, Ms. Mulcahy-Dunn has 25 years’ experience in the design, implementation, and management of technical assistance and monitoring and evaluation of large-scale international education programs. Her expertise includes early grade education, generating and using data for decision making, socio-emotional learning, equity, poverty, vulnerability estimation, education finance, and workforce readiness. Ms. Mulcahy-Dunn was previously the director of the Monitoring, Evaluation, and Research Team in the International Education Division at RTI International and served as the Deputy Director and then Director of USAID's Education Data for Decision Making (EdData II) contract from 2004 to 2016. This contract, which resulted in 32 task orders spanning 35 countries, served as a proving ground for innovative monitoring, evaluation, and assessment tools, approaches, and data utilization. As Director, she worked closely with the Contracting Officer's Representative and Mission Education Officers in designing activities to address their specific research needs within the funding available. She worked with her staff to introduce innovations in data collection and analysis approaches to continually improve on the quality of the resulting data. Ms. Mulcahy-Dunn holds a BA in Economics from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst and a Master’s degree in International Economics from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill.

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