There is no generally accepted definition of the term ‘disability’. Even the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) recognises that disability is an evolving concept and intentionally uses an imperfect definition (without calling it a definition) which allows for a broader, more inclusive conceptualisation.
However, under the CRPD, there are some fundamental elements in the concept of disability:
- persons with disabilities must have an impairment or several impairments;
- impairment alone, however, does not lead to the person having a disability;
- it is the disabling barriers in the environment which create disability.
The simplified formula for defining disability therefore is: impairment + barrier in the environment = disability.
The CRPD refers to disability in Article 1, stating “Persons with disabilities include those who have long-term physical, mental, intellectual or sensory impairments which in interaction with various barriers may hinder their full and effective participation in society on an equal basis with others.”