Concept of Impairments, Disabilities and Handicaps

Children With Developmental Challenges 3(2+1)

Lesson 1 : Chidlren With Developmental Challenges

Concept of Impairments, Disabilities and Handicaps

The terms “impairment,” “disability,” and “handicap,” as well as when and how it is appropriate to use each of these terms. By many, disability is broadly understood in a continuum as shown below:

Impairment -> Disability -> Handicap





Cannot see/ difficulty in seeing

Does not know how to read


Cannot hear/ difficulty in hearing

Cannot ask for direction

Loss of limb

Cannot walk/ difficulty in walking

Cannot climb steps

Mental retardation

Does not know how to wear clothes independently

Is dependent on others

Impairment can generate a disability, which in turn can lead to a handicap. A handicap will often lead to further social and economic exclusion. The more the exclusion, the less aware and concerned the community will become of the needs of persons with disabilities and the barriers they face. This alienation leads to a widening gap in the understanding of children with disabilities and their needs.
The World Health Organization (WHO) has defined impairment, disability and handicap as the following:

Impairment: Any temporary or permanent loss or abnormality of a body structure or function, whether physiological or psychological. An impairment is a disturbance affecting functions that can be mental (memory, consciousness) or sensory, internal (heart, kidney) or external (the head, the trunk or the limbs).

It is an abnormality of structure and/or function at the organ level. At this stage, an affected individual becomes aware that he or she is unhealthy." Because of the autism, the student has trouble communicating the same way other people do.

Disability: A restriction or inability to perform an activity in the manner or within the range considered normal for a human being, mostly resulting from impairment.

  • A disability is a condition or function judged to be significantly impaired relative to the usual standard of an individual or group. The term is used to refer to individual functioning, including physical impairment, sensory impairment, cognitive impairment, intellectual impairment mental illness, and various types of chronic disease.
  • Disability is conceptualized as being a multidimensional experience for the person involved. There may be effects on organs or body parts and there may be effects on a person's participation in areas of life.
  • Correspondingly, three dimensions of disability are recognized in ICF: body structure and function (and impairment thereof), activity (and activity restrictions) and participation (and participation restrictions).

Handicap: This is the result of an impairment or disability that limits or prevents the fulfillment of one or several roles regarded as normal, depending on age, sex, social and cultural factors.
It is a disadvantage resulting from an impairment or a disability, a handicap limits or prevents the fulfillment of a role that is normal (depending on age, sex, and social and cultural factors) for the affected individual...Measured as such, handicaps largely reflect societal attitudes toward people with disabilities." The student with autism has a significant handicap because the school has not provided him with an alternative communication system.

Disease or Disorder: Something abnormal occurs within the individual: this may be present at birth or acquired later... gives rise to changes in the structure or functioning of the body." For example, a student in your school may have a disorder known as autism that may be the result of differences in the way the brain works.

Last modified: Friday, 25 May 2012, 10:10 AM