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  • Sruti Mohapatra

What is Disability?

WHO definition

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. Overcoming the difficulties faced by people with disabilities requires interventions to remove environmental and social barriers.

CRPD definition

Persons with disabilities include those who have long-term physical, mental, intellectual or sensory impairments which in interaction with various barriers may hinder their full and effective participation in society on an equal basis with others.


India definition (RPwD Act 2016)


2(s) “person with disability” means a person with long term physical, mental, intellectual or sensory impairment which, in interaction with barriers, hinders his full and effective participation in society equally with others.

2(r) “person with benchmark disability” means a person with not less than forty percent. of a specified disability where specified disability has not been defined in measurable terms and includes a person with disability where specified disability has been defined in measurable terms, as certified by the certifying authority. 2(t) “person with disability having high support needs” means a person with benchmark disability certified under clause (a) of sub-section (2) of section 58 who needs high support. 2(zc) - “specified disability” means the disabilities as specified in the Schedule.

  • Blindness

  • Low Vision

  • Leprosy Cured persons

  • Locomotor Disability

  • Dwarfism

  • Intellectual Disability

  • Mental Illness

  • Cerebral Palsy

  • Specific Learning Disabilities

  • Speech and Language disability

  • Hearing Impairment ( Deaf and Hard of Hearing)

  • Muscular Dystrophy

  • Acid Attack Victim

  • Parkinson’s disease

  • Multiple Sclerosis

  • Thalassemia

  • Hemophilia

  • Sickle Cell disease

  • Autism Spectrum Disorder

  • Chronic Neurological conditions

  • Multiple Disabilities including Deaf Blindness

Statutory definition explanation

A person must meet the requirements of at least one of these three criteria to be an individual with a disability:

  • A long-term physical, mental, intellectual or sensory impairments which in interaction with various barriers may hinder their full and effective participation in society on an equal basis with others.

  • A record of such an impairment or,

  • Being regarded as having such an impairment.

Differences in disabling conditions

  • The disability can be visible or invisible;

  • Some disabilities are present from birth;

  • Others are a result of illness or injury;

  • Some difficulties produce formidable challenges in everyday life;

  • Others cause relatively minor inconveniences.

Points to consider

  • Disability does not just refer to a person's health or wellbeing. It involves the interaction between the unique features and functions of a person's body and mind and the environment and socio-political context in which they live.

  • Disability does not equate to inability to achieve. People with disability have the same right as everyone else to make decisions for their own lives and to be active members of society.

  • Disability forms only a part of an individual's identity. While some people identify strongly with their disability, others may see it as just another part of what makes them unique.

  • PwDs with benchmark disabilities, from specified categories as detailed in Schedule of RPwD Act 2016, are eligible for government entitlements.

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