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UN Programme on Disability   Working for full participation and equality

ADHOC COMMITTEE ON
AN INTERNATIONAL CONVENTION

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NGO Participation

Statement

Informal Consultations

SECOND SESSION OF THE AD HOC COMMITTEE ON A COMPREHENSIVE AND INTEGRAL INTERNATIONAL CONVENTION ON PROTECTION AND PROMOTION OF THE RIGHTS OF PERSONS WITH DISABILITIES
New York, 16 to 27 June 2003

Mr Kevin McLaughlin
Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission


DEFINITION OF DISABILITY

Following the discussion on the Definition of Disability, I spoke with some of the panel and explained a definition I use when delivering Disability Equality Training sessions. They felt that this definition could add to the debate and asked that I make it available to all participants.

It is a definition devised by Susan Hemmings and Jenny Morris for a course run by the Open University. Basically it can be seen as a sum with two component parts, as follows:

IMPAIRMENT + DISENABLING FACTOR = DISABILITY

And can be elaborated, as follows:

A PERSON WITH IMPAIRMENT + EXPERIENCE OF DISENABLING FACTOR = DISABLED PERSON

This particular definition allows for the factors debated by the panel and locates disability firmly in a situational basis.

It allows for the fact that each individual disabled person may encounter situations, at any given time, that creates external barriers. For example, as a wheelchair user, my disenabling factor is usually lack of accessible buildings, and it is steps, or the lack of ramped or level access, which disables me.

The definition also allows for the concept of perceived impairment. For example, many deaf people do not regard themselves as having an impairment and instead refer to themselves as a linguistic minority. Yet, within society they are perceived as having an impairment. This particular definition allows for this situation and locates the lack of signed interpreters as a factor that can lead to social exclusion.

Although a very simple definition it has proven useful in explaining how society can make adjustments to include disabled people. I have used it with 160 first form students aged 11 years old, who found it very enlightening and helped develop an understanding of disability that is based on the Social Model.

I have also used it with a wide range of employers to highlight how the definition used in the United Kingdom, Disability Discrimination Act 1995, is based on the Medical Model and locates the problem with the individual, instead on within society.

25 June 2003

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United Nations, 2003-04
Department of Economic and Social Affairs
Division for Social Policy and Development