Defining Disability
Myths and Realities
Following are some selected examples of definitions of disability and developmental disability. Definitions

Administration for
Children and Families

are developed in many ways. For example, some definitions flow from statutory regulations and some

Myth: People with disabilities are a drain on society.

Reality: All people haveinherent value. People with disabilities are contributing members ofsociety

definitions arise from advocacy groups. It may be helpful to charge students individually to define
disability,and then as a group reach consensus. This activity may impart to students the diverse views we
have when defining disability and the resultant difficulty.
General Definitions of Disability
Oregon Office on Disability and Health
Disability is a fluid conect that involves the complex interaction between a person's abilities and the
physical and social enviornment. Secondary conditions are defined as aspects of living that negatively
impact a person's ability to achieve optimal health and wellness that emerge from underlying impairment or
health conditions.
The Center for an Accessible Society
"It is useful to regard an individual with a disability as a person who requires an acoomodation or
intervention reather than as a perosn with a condition or impairment. Because accomodations can
address person-centered factors as well as socio-environmnetal factors... a 'need for accomodation' is a
more adaptable concept."
International Classification of Functioning, Disability, and Health (ICF)
"Previously, disability began where health ended. Once you were disabled, you were in a separate
category.We want to get away from this kind of thinking." The ICF is moving towards a biopsychosocial
model which recognizes "the interaction between health conditions and contextual factors." Contextual
factors inlcude the environment (i.e. attitudes, legal structures, etc.) and persoanl factors (i.e. gender, age,
copingmechanizims, education, how one experinces the disability, etc.)
The ICF indentifies 3 levels of human functioning: functioning at the level of body or body part; the
whole person; and the whole person in a social context. Disability involves dysfunctioning at one or more of
these levels recognizing levels of functioning as impairment, activity limitation, and participation restrictions.
Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990
A physical or mental impairment that substantially limits 1 or more of the major life activities of the
individual; a record of such an impairment; or being regarded as having such an impairment. The term
"qualified individual with a disability" means an individual with a disability who, with or without reasonable
modifications to rules, policies or practices, the removal or architectural, communication, or transportation
barriers, or the provision of auxiliary aids and services, meets the essential eligibility requirements for the
receipt of services or participation in programs or activities which are provided by a public entity.
Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA)
In generaly, ther term "child with a disability" means a child with mental retardation, hearing impairments,
language impairments, serious emotional disturbance. orthopedic impairments, autism, traumati brain injury,
other health impairments or specific learning disabilities AND who, by reason thereof, needs special
education and related services.
Rehabilitation Act of 1973
A physical or mental impairment that constitutes or results in substantial impediment to employment.
Assistive Technology Act of 1990
Any individual of any age, race, or ethnicity who has a disability; AND who is or would be enabled by an
assistive technology device or assistive technology service to minimize deterioration in functioning, or to
achieve a greater level of functioning in any major area of life.
2000 Census( as reported in WVDD Council Publication: A Reporter's Guide: Reporting
About Peoplewith Disabilities wretten by Betsy Southall, edited by Steve Wiseman and Jan Lilly-Stewart)
A long lasting physical, mental, or emotional condition that inhibits a person's ability to perform ordinary
functions such as walking, bathing, learning, remembering.
Direct 1-304-384-5353 | Toll Free 1-800-344-6679 ext. 5353