Definition: Defining the Meaning of Disability
The consequence of an impairment that may be physical, cognitive, mental, sensory, emotional, developmental, or some combination of these. A disability may be present from birth, or occur during a person's lifetime. Disabilities is an umbrella term, covering impairments, activity limitations, and participation restrictions. Impairments may include physical, sensory, and cognitive or developmental disabilities. Mental disorders (also known as psychiatric or psychosocial disability) and various types of chronic disease may also qualify as disabilities.
A Disability is a lack of ability relative to a personal or group standard or norm. In reality there is often simply a spectrum of ability. Disability may involve physical impairment, sensory impairment, cognitive or intellectual impairment, mental disorder (also known as psychiatric or psychosocial disability), or various types of chronic disease. A disability may occur during a person's lifetime or may be present from birth. Disability can be classified into several different types of disabilities.
A model by which illness or disability is the result of a physical condition, is intrinsic to the individual (it is part of that individual's own body), may reduce the individual's quality of life, and causes clear disadvantages to the individual. As a result, curing or managing illness or disability revolves around identifying the illness or disability, understanding it and learning to control and alter its course. For further information see Definitions of The Models of Disability
The Language and Terminology of DisabilityDifferent terms have been used for people with disabilities in different times and places. The euphemism treadmill and changing fashions have caused terms to rise or fall in popularity.
At this time, disability or impairment are commonly used, as are more specific terms, such as blind (to describe having no vision at all) or visually impaired (to describe having limited vision).
Handicap has been disparaged as a result of false folk etymology that says it is a reference to begging. It is actually derived from an old game, Hand-i'-cap, in which two players trade possessions and a third, neutral person judges the difference of value between the possessions. The concept of a neutral person evening up the odds was extended to handicap racing in the mid-18th century.
In handicap racing, horses carry different weights based on the umpire's estimation of what would make them run equally. The use of the term to describe a person with a disability, by extension from handicap racing, a person carrying a heavier burden than normal, appeared in the early 20th century. Handicap replaced terms that are now considered insulting, such as crippled.
Many people would rather be referred to as a person with a disability instead of handicapped. "Cerebral Palsy: A Guide for Care " at the University of Delaware offers the following guidelines:
Impairment is the correct term to use to define a deviation from normal, such as not being able to make a muscle move or not being able to control an unwanted movement. Disability is the term used to define a restriction in the ability to perform a normal activity of daily living which someone of the same age is able to perform. For example, a three-year-old child who is not able to walk has a disability because a normal three-year-old can walk independently. Handicap is the term used to describe a child or adult who, because of the disability, is unable to achieve the normal role in society commensurate with his age and socio-cultural milieu. As an example, a sixteen-year-old who is unable to prepare his own meal or care for his own toileting or hygiene needs is handicapped. On the other hand, a sixteen-year-old who can walk only with the assistance of crutches but who attends a regular school and is fully independent in activities of daily living is disabled but not handicapped. All disabled people are impaired, and all handicapped people are disabled, but a person can be impaired and not necessarily be disabled, and a person can be disabled without being handicapped.
In the UK, but more often in the form "people with impairments" (such as "people with visual impairments"), and "disabled people" is generally preferred to "people with disabilities" - Disability or Disabled - Which Term is Right
Within the disability sector generally language matters. For a group of people who have been so relentlessly described in disparaging, reductionist and exclusive terms, language matters profoundly. This is not unique to people with a disability. In civil rights movements around race, gender, nationality and sexuality, language has been a cornerstone of achieving respect and inclusion.
The term disability has replaced the older designations spastic, handicapped, and crippled. While these two designations can be used interchangeably, proponents of the social model of disability have appropriated the latter term to describe those social and economic consequences of the former. An individual with a physical or intellectual disability, then, is said to be "handicapped" by the lowered expectations of society.
A person may also be "impaired" either by a correctable condition such as myopia, or by an uncorrectable one such as cerebral palsy. For those with mild conditions, related impairments disappear with the application of corrective devices. More serious impairments call for adaptive equipment.
In the United Kingdom, people within the disability rights movement commonly use the term "Disabled" to denote someone who is "disabled by society's inability to accommodate all of its inhabitants."
The Person First Movement has added another layer to this discourse by asking that people with disabilities be identified first as individuals. "Person First Language" - referring, for example, to a "woman who is blind," rather than to "a blind woman" - is a form of political correctness designed to further the aims of the social model by removing attitudinal barriers.
Some people with disabilities support the Person First Movement, while others do not. People who are Deaf in particular may see themselves as members of a specific community, properly called the Deaf culture, and so will reject efforts designed to distance them from the central fact of their identity.
A human rights based approach has been adopted by many organizations of and for disabled people. In 2000, for example, the United Nations Assembly decided to start working on a comprehensive convention for the rights of disabled people.
The Evolution of a Movement
Historically, disabilities have often been cast in a negative light. An individual thus affected was seen as being a "patient" subject either to cure or to ongoing medical care. His condition is seen as disabling; the social reactions to it are justified, and the barriers unavoidable. This position is known as the medical model of disability. See the list of Definitions of The Models of Disability for further information.
Over the past 20 years, a competing view known as the social model of disability has come to the fore. In this model, disability is seen more as a social construction than a medical reality. An individual may be impaired by a condition that requires daily living adaptations, but the bulk of his problem - his disability - can be found in the attitudinal and physical barriers erected by society.
Both the medical and social models agree, to a point, that facilities and opportunities should be made as accessible as possible to individuals who require adaptations. Dismantling physical barriers, or setting up adaptations such as wheelchair ramps, is known as "fostering accessibility".
On December 13, 2006, the United Nations formally agreed on the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, the first human rights treaty of the 21st century, to protect and enhance the rights and opportunities of the world's estimated 650 million disabled people.
As of April 2011, 99 of the 147 signatories had ratified the Convention. Countries that sign the convention are required to adopt national laws, and remove old ones, so that persons with disabilities will,
- Have equal rights to education
- Cultural life
- The right to own and inherit property
- To not be discriminated against in marriage, etc.
- To not be unwilling subjects in medical experiments
Some World Facts Regarding Disabilities:
- According to UNICEF, 30 per cent of street youths are disabled.
- In most OECD countries, women report higher incidents of disability than men.
- Around 10 per cent of the world's population, or 650 million people, live with a disability. They are the world's largest minority.
- Eighty per cent of persons with disabilities live in developing countries, according to the UN Development Program (UNDP).
- Comparative studies on disability legislation shows that only 45 countries have anti-discrimination and other disability-specific laws.
- Women with disabilities are recognized to be multiply disadvantaged, experiencing exclusion on account of their gender and their disability.
- This figure is increasing through population growth, medical advances and the aging process, says the World Health Organization (WHO).
- In countries with life expectancies over 70 years, individuals spend on average about 8 years, or 11.5 per cent of their life span, living with disabilities.
- The World Bank estimates that 20 per cent of the world's poorest people are disabled, and tend to be regarded in their own communities as the most disadvantaged.
- In the United Kingdom, 75 per cent of the companies of the FTSE 100 Index on the London Stock Exchange do not meet basic levels of web accessibility, thus missing out on more than $147 million in revenue.
- Mortality for children with disabilities may be as high as 80 per cent in countries where under-five mortality as a whole has decreased below 20 per cent, says the United Kingdom's Department for International Development, adding that in some cases it seems as if children are being "weeded out".
- Women and girls with disabilities are particularly vulnerable to abuse. A small 2004 survey in Orissa, India, found that virtually all of the women and girls with disabilities were beaten at home, 25 per cent of women with intellectual disabilities had been raped and 6 per cent of disabled women had been forcibly sterilized.
- For every child killed in warfare, three are injured and permanently disabled.
- In some countries, up to a quarter of disabilities result from injuries and violence, says WHO.
- Research indicates that violence against children with disabilities occurs at annual rates at least 1.7 times greater than for their non-disabled peers.
- Persons with disabilities are more likely to be victims of violence or rape, according to a 2004 British study, and less likely to obtain police intervention, legal protection or preventive care.
For further disability facts and statistics click here.
Update - (Sep 22, 2014): New WHO Department Now Include Disability Issues
The World Health Organization (WHO) Director-General, Dr Margaret Chan, announced the creation of a new Department for Management of Noncommunicable Diseases, Disability, Violence and Injury Prevention (NVI).
This new Department, which results from the merger of the Department of Violence and Injury Prevention and Disability (VIP) and the Department for Management of Noncommunicable Diseases (MND), is now officially established.
NVI will support regions and countries to strengthen their capacity to address these major health and development challenges in an integrated way in the context of the new realities of the post-2015 era.
Facts: Disability Rates
Disability rates are significantly higher among groups with lower educational attainment in the countries of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), says the OECD Secretariat. On average, 19 per cent of less educated people have disabilities, compared to 11 per cent among the better educated.