Last updated 6 December 2016
The World Health Organisation distinguishes between impairment, disability and handicap and states the following:
- An impairment is any loss of physical or psychological function (e.g. brain damage).
- A disability is any loss or reduction in a person’s functional ability caused by an impairment.
- A handicap is the social or environmental disadvantage that society imposes on a person with a disability (e.g. physical barriers to people who use wheelchairs).
Accordingly, it is incorrect to say that a person has a handicap, when it is society that handicaps people who have a disability. Therefore disability can be generally defined as:
the functional consequence of impairment of the body or human functioning, leading to restrictions on a person’s mental, sensory or mobility functions to do tasks.
- may or may not be visible
- can be caused by an accident, trauma, disease, genetics, ageing, or environmental and social factors
- is specific to each person.