The Many Different Definitions Of The Term Disability

Lets take a look at some definitions of the word “Disability” as defined by various organisations 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:

* they have a mental or physical impairment
* the impairment has an adverse effect on their ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities
* the adverse effect is substantial and long-term (meaning it has lasted for 12 months, or is likely to last for more     than 12 months or for the rest of the person’s life).

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:

* mobility
* manual dexterity
* physical coordination
* continence
* ability to lift, carry or move everyday objects
* speech, hearing or eyesight
* memory or ability to concentrate, learn or understand
* understanding of the risk of physical danger.

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 recognised 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 organisations 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 recognise 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:

Impairment: In the context of health experience an impairment is any loss or abnormality of psychological, physiological or anatomical structure or function. Impairment isconsidered to occur at the level of organ or system function. Disability is concerned with functional performance or activity, affecting the whole person.

Disability: In the context of health experience a disability is any restriction or lack (resulting from an impairment) of ability to perform an activity in the manner or within the range considered normal for a human being.

Handicap: In the context of health experience a handicap is a disadvantage for a given individual, resulting from an impairment or a disability, that limits or prevents the fulfillment of a role that is normal (depending on age, sex, and social and cultural factors) for that individual.

The third dimension: ‘handicap’-focuses on the person as a social being and reflects the interaction with and adaptation to the person’s surroundings. The classification system for handicap is not hierarchical, but is constructed of a group of dimensions, with each dimension having an associated scaling factor to indicate impact on the individual’s life.

Definitions of the new draft ICIDH

In the context of health condition:

Impairment: is a loss or abnormality in body structure or of a physiological or psychological function.

Activity: is the nature and extent of functioning at the level of the person. Activities may be limited in nature, duration and quality.

Participation: is the nature and extent of a person’s involvement in life situations in relationship to impairments, activities, health conditions and contextual factors. Participation may be restricted in nature, duration and quality. Participation is considered within seven broad domains: personal maintenance; mobility; exchange of information; social relationships; education, work, leisure and spirituality; economic life; and civic and community life.

Context: includes the features, aspects, attributes of, or objects, structures, human-made organisations, service provision, and agencies in, the physical, social and attitudinal environment in which people live and conduct their lives.

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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