Disability: The Issue


Disabilities cut across all aspects of community life and all sectors of society. They affect every income bracket, age group and region. They impact on more than just the person. Statistics show that as we age many of us are directly affected by a disability. While many older adults develop disabilities as they age, others age with disabilities.

The World Health Organization’s (WHO) definition of disability, which defines disability as “the loss or reduction of functional ability and activity that is consequent upon impairment, and impairment as “any disturbance of, or interference with, the normal structure and functioning of the body, including the systems of mental function”.

Types of disabilities include mobility/agility, mental/cognitive, hearing, speaking, and visual impairment. Disabilities may be apparent or hidden, severe or mild, singular or multiple, chronic or intermittent. A person is considered not to have a disability, if the use of a technical aid, such as glasses or a hearing aid, completely compensates for it.

The words disability and handicap are often incorrectly assumed to be interchangeable. A handicap is an environmental or attitudinal barrier that limits the opportunity for a person to participate fully. Negative attitudes or inaccessible entrances to buildings are examples of handicaps.

Seniors with disabilities are not homogeneous. Life experiences of persons with disabilities are not only influenced by the nature of the disability, factors such as gender, age, geographic location, ethnicity, culture, social values and sexual orientation also have a profound, and often compound, affect on an individual’s experience.

Excerpt from  Taking a Second Look; Analyzing Health Inequities with a Sex, Gender and Diversity Lens.


Disability Access and Inclusion Lens – The Disability Lens is a tool, developed in British Columbia, for identifying and clarifying issues affecting persons with disabilities. It provides government policy and program developers and analysts with a framework for considering and addressing the impacts of any initiative (policy, program or decision) on persons with disabilities. Although the Disability Lens is not specific to seniors, the issues raised are pertinent to older people– it can be used to complement the Seniors Mental Health Policy Lens.