I was confused by these terms and I found several perspectives before I grasped the difference. I don’t agree with the usage because it’s contrary to our usual grammar, but I learned it’s important to use the technically correct word.
First, a couple of definitions adopted by the World Health Organization and the United Nations. Then an explanation of the Stigma associated with the word “Handicapped” and the proper Etiquette.
The differences apparently have Medical Significance, yet are often incorrectly used because they are contrary to our usual Grammar. Finally, the Best Example I found to demonstrate the difference.
Impairment, Disability, or Handicap? – World Health Organization
The terms disability, impairment, and handicap have been used synonymously within the education, counseling, and health literature. Although, each of these three terms can be used when discussing disabling conditions, they convey three different meanings.
To promote the appropriate use of these terms the World Health Organization (WHO) provided the following definitions in their International Classification of Impairment, Disability, and Handicap (1980):
- Impairment – any loss or abnormality of psychological, physiological or anatomical structure or function.
- Disability – any restriction or lack of ability to perform an activity in the manner or within the range considered normal for a human being.
- Handicap – the result when an individual with an impairment cannot fulfill a normal life role.
Based on these definitions, it should be understood a handicap is not a characteristic of a person, rather a description of the relationship between the person and the environment.
- Impairment refers to a problem with a structure or organ of the body.
- Disability is a functional limitation with regard to a particular activity.
- Handicap refers to an environmental factor preventing the filling of a normal life role.
Consider the following:
A person who is born blind (the impairment) is unable to read printed material, which is how most information is widely disseminated (the disability). If this person is prevented from attending school or applying for a job because of this impairment and disability, this is a handicap.
This person may be able to perform the daily activity (reading) using some type of assistive technology to overcome this handicap. By attributing the handicap to the environment as opposed to an individual, the emphasis is placed on using Assistive Technology to produce functional outcomes as opposed to focusing on functional limitations.
Distinction between Disability and Handicap – United Nations
A Disability is a condition caused by an accident, trauma, genetics or disease, which may limit a person’s mobility, hearing, vision, speech or mental function. Some people with disabilities have one or more disabilities.
A Handicap is a physical or attitudinal constraint that is imposed upon a person, regardless of whether that person has a disability. Webster’s Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary defines handicap as to put at a disadvantage.
Adopted by The United Nations General Assembly, 48th session.
The stigma stems from the original phrase ‘hand in cap’, involving the image of a beggar, injured from war and deemed helpless
For a long, long time it seems that it has been socially acceptable to use the ‘h’ word in reference to someone who lives with disability or impairment or injury or loss or weakening or deficiency or incapacity or ill health or restriction or hindrance
Disability Etiquette – Etiquette
A disability is a condition caused by an accident, trauma, genetics or disease which may limit a person’s mobility, hearing, vision, speech or mental function. Some people have more than one disability.
A handicap is physical or attitudinal constraint that is imposed upon a person, regardless of whether that person has a disability. A set a stairs would be a handicap for a person with a disability who uses a wheelchair.
Impairment, Disability and Handicap – Medical Significance
The differences in meaning are important for understanding the effects of neurological injury on development.
- Impairment: any loss or abnormality of psychological, physiological or anatomical structure or function.
- Disability: any restriction or lack (resulting from an impairment) of ability to perform an activity in the manner or within the range considered normal for a human being.
- Handicap: a disadvantage for a given individual that limits or prevents the fulfillment of a role that is normal
As traditionally used,
- impairment refers to a problem with a structure or organ of the body;
- disability is a functional limitation with regard to a particular activity; and
- handicap refers to a disadvantage in filling a role in life relative to a peer group
Handicap/Disability – Grammar
In normal usage, a handicap is a drawback you can easily remedy, but a disability is much worse: you’re just unable to do something.
But many people with disabilities and those who work with them strongly prefer “disability” to “handicap,” which they consider an insulting term
Their argument is that a disability can be compensated for by—for instance—a wheelchair, so that the disabled person is not handicapped
Only the person truly unable by any means to accomplish tasks because of a disability is handicapped
The fact that this goes directly counter to ordinary English usage may help to explain why the general public has been slow to adopt it
Do the words disability and handicapped mean the same thing? – Best Example
Disability and handicapped do not mean the same thing. And the differences are important.
Does Stevie Wonder have a disability? [blind musician]
“A DISABILITY refers to a reduction of function or
the absence of a particular body part or organ.”
So YES, Stevie Wonder, who is blind, would qualify as a person with a disability.
A disability is usually a lifelong condition: autism, an intellectual disability (the new term for mental retardation), cerebral palsy, or being deaf or blind…
Does Stevie Wonder have a handicap?
“A HANDICAP is viewed as a disadvantage
resulting from a disability
that limits or prevents fulfillment.”
Does being blind prevent Stevie Wonder from singing or achieving personal fulfillment as an entertainer? NO. So Stevie Wonder, though he has a disability, does not have a handicap.
Does Stevie Wonder need support? Of course. If Stevie Wonder did not have a personal assistant or any of the other modifications and adaptations he needed, then he might be handicapped.
Disability is socially constructed
Why is this important?
Even though there might not be a medical miracle or cure at this time, the disability is just a disability. No one wants to be different than anyone else. No one wants to have a harder time doing things than other people, but with the right supports it is possible to have a fulfilling and satisfying life, and not be handicapped