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DEMOS Project

Online Materials for Staff Disability Awareness
[Modules] : Disability Awareness


There have been various attempts at defining disability. An understanding of the development of these definitions also underpins some of the thinking about the two models of disability mentioned before.

World Health Organisation (WHO)

In 1980 the WHO commissioned Philip Wood [Reference] to devise a classification system for disability. The resulting definitions are shown below:

any loss or abnormality of psychological, physiological or anatomical structure or function.
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.
a disadvantage for a given individual, resulting from an impairment or disability, that limits or prevents the fulfilment of a role that is normal (depending on age, sex and social and cultural factors) for that individual.

Barnes et al (1999) [Reference] are amongst the critics of this definition; they make several points including:

The WHO is considering releasing a second version of this definition which include a fourth category of environmental effects. However, disabled people's groups and disability activists say that the definition needs completely rewriting.


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