Understanding Disability

A Team play with colorful puzzle pieces

Understanding disability requires the acknowledgement that everyone is different.  We may look like our brothers, sisters or other family members.  We will have similar characteristics, strengths, and weaknesses to others. However, there are no two people that are the same.  Identical twins may have the same genetic makeup however, environmental differences as they grow make provide the environment for them to differ.


Understanding disability involves recognising the diversity within the disabled community and appreciating the unique experiences, challenges, and abilities of everyone. Here are key aspects to consider in understanding disability:

Many people linked together by lines.

Diverse Spectrum

Disability is not a singular experience; it encompasses a broad spectrum of conditions and abilities. Physical disabilities, sensory impairments, intellectual disabilities, mental health conditions, and neurodiversity are just a few examples. Each person’s experience of disability is unique, shaped by their specific condition, personal circumstances, and societal factors.

Teddy bear in bed with thermometer and plaster

Medical vs Social

Understanding disability involves distinguishing between the medical model and the social model. The medical model views disability as a medical condition to be treated or cured, while the social model focuses on societal barriers that limit the full participation of individuals with disabilities. Embracing the social model encourages a shift towards creating an inclusive and accessible society.


A man and woman brain storming.

Invisible Disability

Not all disabilities are visible. Many individuals may have disabilities that are not immediately apparent, such as chronic pain, mental health conditions, or certain neurodivergent traits. Recognising and respecting invisible disabilities is essential for fostering understanding and empathy.

Words 'Barrier free' on white note with a pen on top.


People with disabilities have the same fundamental rights as everyone else. Understanding disability involves recognising the agency and autonomy of individuals with disabilities. Respecting their choices, preferences, and decision-making capacity is crucial for promoting inclusivity.

A man teaching students.

Communication, Language 

Language matters in understanding disability. Using respectful and person-first language, which prioritises the person over their disability, is important. It’s crucial to be aware of evolving terminology and to listen to how individuals with disabilities describe their own experiences.

A group of people using computers in a classroom.

Accessibility and Inclusion

A key aspect of understanding disability is acknowledging the importance of accessibility and inclusion. This includes physical accessibility in the built environment, digital accessibility in technology, and social inclusion in various activities. Creating environments that accommodate diverse needs is vital.


A group of people using computers in a classroom.

Emotional vs Social

Disability is not solely a physical or medical issue; it encompasses emotional and social dimensions. Individuals with disabilities may face stigma, discrimination, and societal misconceptions. Understanding disability involves addressing these socio-emotional aspects and working towards a more supportive and empathetic society.


Hand moving a blue pawn one step forward.


In essence, understanding disability is an ongoing process that involves empathy, education, and a commitment to creating a world where everyone, regardless of ability, can participate fully and be valued for their unique contributions.