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What is Disability?

A disability can be defined as any physical or mental condition that limits a person's movements, senses, certain activities, or makes it difficult for them to participate with the world around them. These conditions can be cognitive, developmental, intellectual, mental, physical, and sensory or even a combination of multiple elements.

"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. Disability is thus not just a health problem. It is a complex phenomenon, reflecting the interaction between features of a person’s body and features of the society in which he or she lives."

— World Health Organization, Disabilities.

Disability is a complex topic, for it has different meanings in different communities. There are three main categories or models of disabilities, namely The Medical Model of Disability, the Social Model of Disability, and the Individual-Environment Model of Disability.

In the Medical Model, the term disability may refer to physical or mental qualities that some institutions, particularly medicine, view as an obligation to be fixed. Whereas, the Social Model says that it’s not the medical condition but the society and its attitudes and structures that disables a person.

As it became clear that disability was not a strictly medical concept nor a strictly social concept, there was a movement towards bio-psychosocial models (i.e. concerned with the biological, psychological, and social aspects in contrast to the strictly biomedical aspects).


What causes Disabilities?

There can be many different causes of disabilities that cause restrictions on basic activities of daily living such as eating, bathing, getting dressed, toileting, transferring, maintaining personal hygiene and mobilization, or advanced activities of daily living such as shopping, food preparation, driving, or working.

The RPWD (Rights of Persons with Disabilities) Act, 2016, India provides a list of conditions that can easily be termed as disabilities, which includes cerebral palsy, dwarfism, muscular dystrophy, acid attack victims, hard of hearing, speech and language disability, specific learning disabilities, autism spectrum disorders, chronic neurological disorders such as multiple sclerosis and Parkinson's disease, blood disorders such as hemophilia, thalassemia, and sickle cell anemia, and multiple disabilities.

This is not a comprehensive list and many injuries and medical problems cause disability. Some causes of disability, such as injuries, may resolve over a due course of time and are considered temporary disabilities. An acquired disability is the result of impairments that occur suddenly or chronically during the lifespan, contrary to being born with an impairment. Invisible disabilities may not be noticeably visible.


Individuals with disabilities have been attempting to reduce marginalization through the use of the social model vs. the medical model with an objective of shifting criticism away from their bodies and impairments and towards the social institutions that oppress them, as compared to their abled peers. Disability advocacy/activism demands many grievances be addressed, such as lack of accessibility, poor representation in media, stigma, stereotyping, and lack of recognition. This approach originates from a social model framework.

Embracing disability as a positive identity by becoming involved in disabled communities and participating in disabled culture can be an effective way to combat internalized prejudice, and can challenge dominant narratives about disability.

How can you make a change?

The inclusion of people with disabilities into everyday activities involves practices and policies designed to identify and remove barriers such as physical, communication, and attitudinal. How can we as a society work towards an inclusive world?

  • Create non-discriminatory attitudes and policies: Treating all around you as equals. Remember, “Different is just different, not less than.”

  • Focusing on Universal Design: Making products, communications, and the physical environment more accessible by as many people as possible.

  • Providing Accommodations: Modifying items, procedures, or systems to enable a person with a disability to use them to the maximum extent possible and

  • Addressing stigma and stereotypes: Eliminating the belief that people with disabilities are less capable of doing things.

Join us in making our world more just and equitable for persons with disabilities! Contact us to learn more:

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