Difference between Disability and Handicap

Key difference: Disability and handicap are close synonyms of each other. Disability means the inability of a person to perform his/her routine actions. Handicap means the difficulty experienced by a person in performing his/her tasks.

Disability is an impairment of one’s ability to function. The impairment can be physical, cognitive, mental, sensory, emotional and/or developmental, which can be caused by various factors, such as accident, trauma, genetics or disease. The impairment actually restricts a person's mental, sensory, or mobility functions. Hence, a disabled person may have trouble doing normal everyday tasks. However, this does not mean that he or she cannot do that task; it just means that they may have to do the task differently as compared to before their disability, or take longer to do it.

Still, depending on the disability, they may even require assistance. This is why disabilities often shatter the confidence of a victim and cause a feeling of social stigma in him. They can affect him in a variety of ways, like being unable to carry out the simplest of tasks, trouble in socializing with friends and family, frequent breakdown of conversations, stress, mental trauma, stormy relations, etc. Yet, with the help of family and friends, thousands of people out there are currently living with a disability.

Handicap is also a condition in which a person experiences trouble in performing his/her tasks. Albeit, the difference lies in the fact that handicap is a partial disability. In a disabled condition, a person is completely helpless to perform a function. Whereas, in a handicap situation, a person can still carry out his functions, but not without experiencing some amount of pain or trouble. Since the difference is so subtle, it’s a possibility that both the terms have come to be known as synonyms.

In addition, both the terms have come into scrutiny for their contextual usage and political correctness. People use words such as ‘physically challenged’, ‘physically poor’, ‘differently able’, etc., which have known to offend a sect of people suffering with handicap or disability. Similarly, ‘handicap’ is looked at as taking a gibe at people suffering from such conditions. Consequently, disabled is now popularly accepted as a polite term to describe the victims of such ailments.

Comparison between Disability and Handicap:





Disability means the inability of a person to perform his/her routine actions.

Handicap means the difficulty experienced by a person in performing his/her tasks.

Core difference

Disability is being completely unable to perform a function.

Handicap is a partial disability.


Disability is mostly associated with the medical condition of not being able to perform a task.

Handicap could also mean a disadvantage imposed in a professional sport.


Disabilities of various kinds such as physical, sensory, intellectual, mental, emotional, etc.

Handicap related to medical conditions such as being physically, mentally handicapped et al., and handicap in terms of sports such as golf handicap, chess handicap, tennis handicap, etc.

Diplomatic accuracy

More acceptable as compared to ‘handicap’.

Regarded as being offensive to people suffering from conditions of impairment or disability.

Image Courtesy: and.org.au, decalsplanet.com

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