What is a disability?

18 02 2012

The American with Disability Act Statutory Definition of disability means that a person has:

(A) A physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more of the major life activities of such individual;

(B) A record of such an impairment; or

(C) Is being regarded as having such an impairment.

For comparison, in the Israel Equal Rights of Persons with Disabilities Law (5758-1998) a person with disabilities is defined as a person with a permanent or temporary physical, mental or intellectual – including a cognitive – impairment, due to which his functions are substantively restricted in one or more main spheres of life.

While these definitions seek to refer both to the health conditions (e.g., physical, mental or intellectual impairment) and to their impact on major life functions of the individual (e.g., work), I feel that they still miss an important aspect of disability: disability as a social construct. That is, instead of solely focusing on disability as a “problem” of the individual, I would expect that researchers and policy makers would acknowledge that the dominant social, cultural and political forces have a major impact on the disability definitions, on who would be considered as a disable person in a specific society, on how s/he would be treated by society and by professionals and so on and so forth.

In the next posts I will introduce the disability studies approach (maybe some colleagues of mine will join me). Furthermore, I will post some interesting news in the field, including lectures and nice videos.