What are Disabilities?

Disability is an umbrella term, which health often refer to as 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 (World Health Organisation, 2019).

The Code shares a definition of disability, which draws upon the Equality Act (2010). This explains that children have a disability if they present with ‘… a physical or mental impairment which has a long-term and substantial adverse effect on their ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities’ (p. 135).  This definition provides a relatively low threshold for disability and includes more children than many realise: ‘long-term’ is defined as ‘a year or more’ and ‘substantial’ is defined as ‘more than minor or trivial’ (Martin-Denham and Watts, 2019).

The social model of disability is a way of viewing the world, developed by disabled people. The model says that people are disabled by barriers in society, not by their impairment or difference. Barriers can be physical, like buildings not having accessible toilets. Or they can be caused by people’s attitudes to difference, like assuming disabled people can’t do certain things. The social model helps us recognise barriers that make life harder for disabled people. Removing these barriers creates equality and offers disabled people more independence, choice and control (SCOPE, 2019).