Difference between Disability and Impairment

Key difference: Both the terms ‘disability’ and ‘impairment’ are used in the field of Disability Studies. Disability is any restriction related to an individual’s physical and mental functioning of a body part; whereas, Impairment is a condition where there is a complete or partial loss of any part or organ of a body.

A disability is a condition in which there is a lack of an individual’s mental, mobile or moving functions of its respective organ or part. In this condition, the individual is not able to function or complete any task which is associated to its absent part or organ. It can also entail to any sensory, physical, cognitive or intellectual impairment and various types of chronic disease and mental illnesses. It’s not compulsory in disability that the condition should occur from birth; it can rather occur at any time in an individual’s life span. The term broadly classifies the illness or irregular capacity of any functioning of a body part, then it may relate to any associative physical, cognitive, mental, sensory, emotional, developmental, or some combination of problems.

Many a times, these conditions are termed and taken in a negative sense in the society, these are often called as spastic, handicapped, and crippled. The degree of disability may range from mild to moderate, severe, or profound. There can be more than one disability in a person. The most common disabilities in the society generally are deafness and autism. There are various causes due to which disabilities occur, some of which are: Masculinity, Femininity, Poverty, and Disasters. Socially, there are huge and big organizations like WHO (World Health Organization), which are involved for the cause to cure and help the disable person.

The conditions causing disability are classified as:

  • Inherited (genetically transmitted);
  • Congenital, (which means, caused by a mother's infection or other disease during pregnancy, embryonic or fetal developmental irregularities, or by injury during or soon after birth);
  • Acquired, (such as conditions caused by illness or injury); or
  • Of unknown origin                             

Impairment is a cause of Disability. According to the federal government, the term impairment is defined as: an “inability to engage in any substantial gainful activity by reason of any medically determinable physical or mental impairment which can be expected to last or has lasted for a continuous period of not less than 12 months.” Medically, it is a condition which leads to disability in an individual. It can be stated as the basic root cause of any disability. It’s an abnormality associated with the physiological, psychological, or anatomical structure or function of a body part or organ. Impairment can relate to the permanent or temporary loss of functioning of an organ. It acts as an alerting symbol to identify an affected problem in an individual. The problem when diagnosed at the specific time can be cured by consulting or taking a prior treatment.

Impairment is the effect of any problem associated to any body part. These are reflected as the cause of disabilities; this means that they act as symptom prior to the disability, which could be treated or would be attempted to stop by consulting a doctor or prescribing a treatment. The most observed Impairment in children is the ‘Specific Language Impairment’ (SLI). It is observed and daignosed when a child is not able to speak a particular language for no obvious reasons. For many years, there was a tendency to assume that SLI was caused by factors such as poor parenting, subtle brain damage around the time of birth, or transient hearing loss. Subsequently, the reasons observed after the research were factors associated with the genes in an individual. Other then these, there are vast disorders and problems related to the Impairments.

Comparison between Disability and Impairment:




WHO’s International Classification descriptions:

“any limitation or function loss deriving from impairment that prevents the performance of an activity in the time-lapse considered normal for a human being”

“a loss or abnormality of physical bodily structure or function, of logic-psychic origin, or physiological or anatomical origin”.

They are

It’s the restriction or lack caused by the abnormality or impairment

It’s an abnormality or loss in itself.


  • Physical disability Sensory disability
  • Balance disorder
  • Intellectual disability
  • Mental health and emotional disabilities
  • Developmental disability
  • Nonvisible disabilities
  • Speech and Language Impairments
  • Visual Impairments
  • Hearing Impairments
  • Physical Impairments
  • Cognitive/Language Impairments

Examples with short explanations

An individual’s inability to walk is a disability.  His level of disability can be improved with physical therapy and special equipment. 

An individual’s inability to move the legs easily at the joints and inability to bear weight on the feet is impairment.

Image Courtesy: disabilityumbrellagroup.com, shop.bt.com

Most Searched in Food and Drink Most Searched in Sports
Most Searched in Cars and Transportation Most Searched in Electronics
Google+ Profile vs Google+ Page vs Google+ Local Q
Outsourcing vs Offshoring
Less Than vs Fewer Than
Passive Voice vs Active Voice

Add new comment

Plain text

This question is for testing whether or not you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions.