Definition of Disability

 Concept of Disability


The sequence of events leading to disability and handicap has been stated as follows: Disease’! Impairment’! Disability’! Handicap

The WHO has defined these terms as follows:

Impairment: impairment is defined as “any loss or abnormality of psychological, physiological or anatomical structure or function”. e.g., loss of foot, defective vision or mental retardation. Impairment may be visible, or invisible, temporary or permanent, progressive or regressive. Further, one impairment may lead to the development of secondary impairments as in the case of leprosy where damages to nerves (primary impairment) may lead to planter ulcer (Secondary impairment).

Disability: Because of impairment, the affected person may be unable to carry out certain activities considered normal for his age etc. this inability has been defined as “any restriction or lack of ability to perform an activity in the manner or within the range considered normal for a human being”.

Handicap: As a result of disability, the person experiences certain disadvantages in life and is not able to discharge the obligations required of him and play the role expected of him in society. This is termed “handicap”, and is defined as “a disadvantages for a given individual, resulting from impairment or a disability that limits or prevents the fulfillment of a role that is normal (depending on age, sex, social and cultural factor) for that individual”.

The intervention in disability will often be social or environmental as well as medical. While impairment which is the earliest stage has a large medical component, disability and handicap which are later stages have large social and environmental components in terms of dependence and social cost.

Disability Prevention

Disability Prevention

Another concept is “disability prevention”. It relates to all the levels of prevention:

(a)    Reducing the occurrence of impairment, viz. immunization against          polio (primary                           prevention).

(b)    Disability limitation by appropriate treatment (secondary          prevention).

(c)    Prevention the transition of disability into handicap (tertiary  prevention).

The major causes of disabling impairment in the developing countries are communicable diseases malnutrition, low quality peri-natal care and accidents. These are responsible for about 70 percent of cases of disability in developing countries. Primary prevention is the most effective way of dealing with the disability problem in developing countries.


Rehabilitation has been defined as the combined and coordinated use of medical, social, educational and vocational measure for training and retraining the individual to the highest possible level of function ability. It includes all measure aimed at reducing the impact of disabling and handicap conditions and at enabling the disabled and handicapped to achieve social integration. Social integration and handicapped people in the mainstream of community life.

Rehabilitation medicine has emerged in recent years as a medical specially. It involves disciplines such as medicine or physiotherapy, occupational therapy, speech therapy, audiology, psychology, education, social work, vocational guidance and placement services. The following areas of concern in rehabilitation have been identified:

a)      Medical rehabilitation – restoration of functions

b)     Vocational rehabilitation – restoration of the capacity to earn a livelihood.

c)      Social rehabilitation – restoration of family and social relationships.

d)     Psychological rehabilitation – restoration of personal dignity and confidence.


Rehabilitation is no longer looked upon as an extracurricular activity of the physician. The current view is that the responsibility of the doctor does not end when the temperature touches normal and stitches are removed. The patient must be restored and retained to live and work within the limit of his disability but to the hilt of his capacity. As such medical rehabilitation should start very early in the process of medical treatment.

Examples of rehabilitation are: establishing school for the blind, provision of aids for the crippled, reconstructive surgery in leprosy, muscle re-education and graded exercise in neurological disorders like polio, change of profession for a more suitable one and modification of life in general in the case of tuberculosis, cardiac patients and others. The purpose of rehabilitation is to make productive people out of non-productive people.

It is now recognized that rehabilitation is a difficult and demanding task that seldom give totally satisfactory results; but needs enthusiastic cooperation from different segments of society as well as expertise, equipment and funds not readily available for this purpose even in affluent societies. It is further recognized that interventions at earlier stages are more feasible, will yield result band are less demanding of scarce resources.

Also read on: 

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<< Concept of preventing of diseases >>

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