What is a "Disability"?

An old man in a wheelchair being assisted by a care woman

Disability is the consequence of an impairment that may be physical, cognitive, mental, sensory, emotional, developmental, or some combination of these that result in restrictions on an individual's ability to participate in what is considered "normal" in their everyday society. A disability may be present from birth, or occur during a person's lifetime.

"Disabilities is an umbrella term, covering impairments, activity limitations, and participation restrictions. An impairment is a problem in body function or structure; an activity limitation is a difficulty encountered by an individual in executing a task or action; while a participation restriction is a problem experienced by an individual in involvement in life situations. Thus, disability is a complex phenomenon, reflecting an interaction between features of a person’s body and features of the society in which he or she lives." — World Health Organization, Disabilities

Disability is a contested concept, with different meanings for different communities. On the one hand, it may be used to refer to physical or mental attributes that some institutions, particularly medicine, view as needing to be fixed (the medical model); it may refer to limitations on participation in social life imposed on people by the constraints of an ableist society (the social model); or the term may serve to name a social identity claimed by people with disabilities in order to mark their shared goals and politics.