Contextual disability

This book is not seeking to redefine disability, but a brief look at some of the existing definitions is appropriate. The WHO's International Classification of Functioning, Disability, and Health (ICF) recognizes disability as a complex interaction between the features of a person's body and the features of the environment and society in which that person lives.2 It makes a distinction between an "impairment": a problem in a body function or structure; an "activity limitation": a difficulty encountered in executing a task; and a "participation restriction": a problem experienced in involvement in life situations. In the WHO's words, "Disability is not something that only happens to a minority of humanity. The ICF thus 'mainstreams' the experience of disability and recognizes it as a universal human experience."3

The inclusion of contextual factors challenges a direct causal relationship from impairment to disability to handicap that other definitions had embodied. It speaks of blurring the boundaries between disabled and able-bodied, not just in terms of a gray scale or continuum between the two, but also because changing environmental factors and social contexts make disability contextual, even dynamic, for each individual.

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