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Definitions of Disability

  • Published: 2009-12-23 (Revised/Updated 2012-06-28) : Disabled World.
  • Synopsis: Definitions of Disability a word used in daily conversations that holds different meanings for different people.

Main Document

"Disability" is a word often used in daily conversations and holds different meanings for different people. Do these different meanings matter? What is there to be gained by trying to define disability more precisely and to attempt to use the word in consistent ways

Disability groups and other organizations may have their own definitions of disability. The concept of disability is complex, and there are historical, social, legal and philosophical influences on its interpretation. The experience of disability is unique to each person but there are common impacting factors. There are common aspects also in the rights of people to access specific disability services provided directly or indirectly by governments. The need for some agreed definitions, largely to ensure that disability support programs are fair about who is to receive benefits and why, has prompted much discussion and debate.

The use of common terms and definitions provides individuals with a basis for a common understanding. In this way, communication is assisted, transparency in social programs is improved, and needs are better met through accurate identification and understanding of what people require.

Lets take a look at some definitions of the word "Disability" as defined by various organizations around the world.

Definition of "disability" under the Disability Discrimination Act (DDA)

The Disability Discrimination Act (DDA) defines a disabled person as someone who has a physical or mental impairment that has a substantial and long-term adverse effect on his or her ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities.

The DDA sets out the circumstances under which a person is 'disabled'. A person is considered to be disabled if:

In addition there are also some special provisions under the Act that cover, for example, progressive conditions and past disabilities. In defining 'normal day-to-day activities' the DDA states that at least one of the following areas must be badly affected:

ADA Definition of "disability"

The ADA has a three-part definition of "disability." This definition, based on the definition under the Rehabilitation Act, reflects the specific types of discrimination experienced by people with disabilities. Accordingly, it is not the same as the definition of disability in other laws, such as state workers' compensation laws or other federal or state laws that provide benefits for people with disabilities and disabled veterans.

Under the ADA, an individual with a disability is a person who:

1. Has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities

2. Has a record of such an impairment

3. Is regarded as having such an impairment.

The World Health Organization defines Disability as follows:

"Disabilities is an umbrella term, covering impairments, activity limitations, and participation restrictions. An impairment is a problem in body function or structure; an activity limitation is a difficulty encountered by an individual in executing a task or action; while a participation restriction is a problem experienced by an individual in involvement in life situations. Thus disability is a complex phenomenon, reflecting an interaction between features of a person's body and features of the society in which he or she lives.

Three dimensions of disability are recognized in the International Classification of Impairments, Disabilities and Handicaps (ICIDH)

A new version of the ICIDH is now being drafted, to embrace developments in the field since 1980, and criticism of the first ICIDH. A range of countries, including Australia, is involved in the work with the World Health Organization, as well as organizations representing people with a disability. One of the major developments is the more specific recognition of the social construction of the third dimension of disability. It is being proposed that this third dimension be renamed 'participation', and that its definition recognize the critical role played by environmental or contextual factors in restricting full participation.

Definitions of the ICIDH 1980

The International Classification of Impairments, Disabilities and Handicaps (ICIDH), provides a conceptual framework for disability which is described in three dimensions-impairment, disability and handicap:

Definitions of the new draft ICIDH

In the context of health condition:

Definition of disability discrimination

Disability discrimination is the act of treating someone with a disability less favorably than someone without a disability.

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