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What is the difference between impairment and disability? - Quora
# What is the difference between impairment and disability? #

4 Answers

Thomas Dirth, Assistant Professor of Psychology at Bemidji State University (2018-present)
Answered Aug 20, 2018

An impairment is a phenomenon associated with a person’s body (brain included). For instance, I have cerebral palsy which is an impairment, because it negatively affects my capacity to walk in a species-typical manner. There are other impairments that affect any number of species-typical functions of a body.

To distinguish impairment from disability, there is an additional component of ‘limitation’ as a function of impairment. Limitation occurs in relation to one’s everyday life space. So my impairment, in a vacuum, would be relatively meaningless, but when it is considered along with what is going on around me in my culture (e.g., expectations that adults go to work, grocery shop, tend a home, etc), having a mobility impairment quickly becomes limiting. However, the mobility impairment didn’t do that alone; it interacted with the social expectations in my life space to produce a disability.


The second reason this exercise is useful is because the dominant tendency historically is to see both as more or less the same. This has led to a focus on treating/curing/compensating for impairment thinking that this would mitigate limitation. It wasn’t until disabled people found one another in institutions and segregated education facilities, and in seeing that they shared a lot in common even with different impairments, they came to the conclusion that their limitations were less a function of impairment and more a function of the social environment. Disability is not to be treated/cured/compensated, therefore, it is something to be accommodated via change in the social environment

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