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Disability: Definition and Meaning of What is Disability

meaning and definition of disability
Samyak Lalit
Samyak Lalit | October 30, 2017 (Last update: July 27, 2021)

Samyak Lalit is an author and disability rights activist. He is a polio survivor and the founder of projects like Kavita Kosh, Gadya Kosh, TechWelkin, WeCapable, Dashamlav and Viklangta Dot Com. Website:

When we talk about disability, we more or leas understand what it means. So, we do not really give it a thought as to how exactly disability is defined by various dictionaries, encyclopedia, institutions and countries. Why is it important to understand the comprehensive meaning of disability? You may also ask what is a definition? and why is the definition so important?

OK, so let’s first understand the definition itself! The definition is defined as “a statement expressing the essential nature of something.”

Why is a definition so important? Well, because definitions enable us to have a common understanding of a word or subject. A proper definition allows us all be on the same page when discussing or reading about an issue.

WHO’s Definition of Disability

World Health Organization (WHO) defined disability as having the following three dimensions:

  1. Impairment in a person’s body structure or function, or mental functioning; examples of impairments include loss of a limb, loss of vision or memory loss.
  2. Activity limitation, such as difficulty seeing, hearing, walking, or problem solving.
  3. Participation restrictions in normal daily activities, such as working, engaging in social and recreational activities, and obtaining health care and preventive services.

Definition of Disability in Dictionaries

According to Merriam-Webster disability is a physical, mental, cognitive, or developmental condition that impairs, interferes with, or limits a person’s ability to engage in certain tasks or actions or participate in typical daily activities and interactions.

As you can see this definition encompasses all aspects of disability and it clearly explains what exactly are the types and effects of disabling conditions.

Oxford English Dictionary defines disability as a physical or mental condition that limits a person’s movements, senses, or activities. gives us a more practical definition of disability as a physical or mental handicap, especially one that prevents a person from living a full, normal life or from holding a gainful job.

This definition talks about effects of disability on day-to-day life. It specifically acknowledges the fact that disability may hamper one’s ability to find and hold a job for earning a livelihood.

Definition of Disability in Various Countries

According to the Equality Act 2010, the United Kingdom defines disability as “A person has a disability for the purposes of the Act if he or she has a physical or mental impairment and the impairment has a substantial and long-term adverse effect on his or her ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities”.

Definition of disability in the United States is quite accommodating. The Americans with Disabilities Act defines a persons with disability as a person who has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities.

World’s most populous nation, China defines disability as “a disabled person refers to the one who suffers from abnormalities or loss of a certain organ or function, psychologically or physiologically, or in anatomical structure and who has lost wholly or in part the ability to engage in activities in a normal way”.

In Canada, according to the Canadian Human Rights Act, disability is defined as “a physical or mental condition that is permanent, episodic, ongoing, or of some persistence that is significant enough to limit a person’s ability to carry important life activities”.

Under Disability Discrimination Act 1992, Australia defines disability as below:

  • total or partial loss of the person’s bodily or mental functions
  • total or partial loss of a part of the body
  • the presence in the body of organisms causing disease or illness
  • the malfunction, malformation or disfigurement of a part of the person’s body
  • a disorder or malfunction that results in the person learning differently from a person without the disorder or malfunction
  • a disorder, illness or disease that affects a person’s thought processes, perception of reality, emotions or judgment, or that results in disturbed behaviour

The term disability has been defined by the Brazilian Law on the Inclusion of Persons with Disabilities. The law recognizes a person as a disabled person if –

  • the person suffers a long-term impairment
  • the impairment is of physical, mental, intellectual or sensory nature
  • when faced with one or more barrier, the impairment hinders full and effective participation in society on equal terms

meaning and definition of disability

The Japanese Disabled Person’s Fundamental Law defines Persons with Disabilities as “Individuals who are subject to considerable restrictions in vocational life, or who have great difficulty in leading a vocational life, over a long period of time because of any physical, intellectual and mental (including developmental) disabilities or impairment”.

The German Social Code defines disability as a non-temporary diminishing of bodily or psychological abilities that is due to an irregular state, rather than induced by age or temporary illness”.

France has made big strides in providing a equal opportunities for persons with disabilities. In France disability is defined as “any limitations in participating in society because of a substantial, permanent condition affecting a person’s physical, sensory or mental functioning, which includes cognitive and psychiatric disorders and disabling chronic illnesses”.

Egypt‘s Rehabilitation Law defines a person with disability as any individual can be considered to be disabled if they become unable to depend on themselves for their own work and remains in that condition.

According to Russian definition a disabled person is a “person who has the violation of health with a permanent disorder of functions of organs caused by diseases, consequences of injuries or defects, leading to restriction of activity and causing the necessity of its social protection”.

The laws of Costa Rica defines disability in very simple words. Disability is defined as “any physical, mental or sensory impairment which substantially limits one or more of an individual’s major activities”.

Meaning of Disability

Disability is seen differently in different societies. In more developed nations disability is considered as a part of human life. Such societies tend to make arrangements to facilitate disabled people to engage in all activities of regular life. In these places, people believe that everybody faces some kind of temporary or permanent disability during their lives. So, the society sees disability conditions as something very natural.

In less advanced and less educated societies disability is seen as a personal problem of an individual. Disability is often associated with one’s bad karmas or sins of past life. Such societies are usually not inclined to adjust the infrastructure to make it accessible for persons with disabilities. Disabled people do not have special rights in such places.

Thus we see that meaning of disability varies among societies. Meaning is a relative term — the same thing may mean different for different people.

Please share your views on how you or your society sees disability. We would love to know the meaning of disability from your standpoint. Thank you for using WeCapable!

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3 responses to “Disability: Definition and Meaning of What is Disability”

  1. Avatar AARUN GAIKWAD says:


    • Avatar shreya agarwal says:

      yes the certificate is only valid for 5 years for people under 18 years. The certificate becomes valid and permanent once all the psychometric testing’s are being properly done by authorized/trained clinical or rehabilitation psychologist. If you have followed the same procedure, then the certficate you must be having is a permanent one and you do not need to renew it.

  2. Avatar Vicky Soni says:

    Hello Sir,
    I’m Vicky Soni. am I eligible to apply for PwD certificate? Does it come under Deaf disability?

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