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How do the Connotations for ‘Differently Abled’ Differ from ‘Disabled’ and ‘Impaired’?

The term disability is used to refer to any condition in a person that makes it difficult to perform daily activities by themselves or have restricted the ability to interact with the world around them due to some form of cognitive, psychological, physical, developmental, or sensory dysfunction. The concept of disability has different connotations in different socio-cultural backgrounds.

The WHO quotes that 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. Disability is thus not just a health problem. It is a complex phenomenon, reflecting the interaction between features of a person’s body and features of the society in which he or she lives.

Even though WHO inclusively uses the term ‘impairment’ to define ‘disability,’ impairment indicates the temporary or permanent abnormality, whether in anatomical structure that leads to disability. The impairment can range from acute to chronic in severity. 

A person who suffers from some form of disability faces considerable restrictions in the way one lives one’s life. The quality of life of such a person is greatly compromised and the obstacles they face daily are not within the fathomable range of any person without such impairments.

Differently Abled

This term came into force in the early 1980s when the US Democratic Committee coined it to refer to the physically or mentally disabled people but to make them feel more inclusive and view their ‘special abilities’ in a positive light. This term was introduced with the intent of averting the perceived negative tone associated with the word disability and directing attention to their capabilities irrespective of their impairment. 

In the positive light, this term helps others (and to some extent the disabled person) to feel optimistic about the disabled person’s condition. Nevertheless, it doesn’t take away the pain and struggle faced by the disabled person on a daily basis.

Elizabeth Wright, a disability activist, and Paralympics medalist say, “To create the label ‘differently-abled’ is to soften the political positioning of disability — essentially it is trying to assure disabled people that we are able-bodied… just different.”

To some disabled people, the coining of this term seems to be a euphemistic attempt of the ablest society to downplay the need to acknowledge their disability, which is real. It is important to acknowledge the struggle along with celebrating the achievements they have achieved, to continue giving our support and encouragement in every possible way.

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