What is a disability?
About a million Victorians have a disability. Disabilities can result from accidents, illness, genetics, or aging. A disability can be physical, sensory, intellectual, psychiatric or neurological. Disabilities limit a person's ability to carry out day-to-day activities. Organisations and governments use different ways to define disability. The DiVine website uses a general list of disabilities. Centrelink that provides the disability support pension lists many disabilities. The mobility allowance by the Federal Government has a much shorter list of disabilities. The Department of Education includes behaviour and language disorders. Other organisations like VicRoads concentrate on disabilities that affect access to their services.
Posted by: Graham Clements, on 09/07/12
There are many definitions of disability.
According to the Victorian Government, one in five Victorians has a disability. It might surprise many that there are about a million Victorians with disabilities. How are all these people defined as having a disability?
The DiVine website uses a very general and therefore inclusive concept of disabilities. DiVine recognises that disabilities can result from accidents, illness or genetics. A disability can be physical, sensory, intellectual, psychiatric or neurological. So disabilities have many causes and come in many forms.
DiVine's writers have a wide range of disabilities. From reading other writers' profiles, they include cerebral palsy, vision impairments, Asperger syndrome, hearing impairments, ulcerative colitis and ichthyosis. Some of the writers have more than one disability.
Office for Disability
The DiVine website is run by the Victorian Government's Office for Disability. As well as accidents, illness and genetics, the Office for Disability says disabilities can result from trauma, aging or at birth.
The Office for Disability website quotes the UN Convention for the Rights of Persons with Disabilities that says
disability is an evolving concept. The convention says people with disabilities face
attitudinal and environmental barriers that hinder their full and effective participation in society on an equal basis with others.
The Office for Disability says a disability can
limit a person's ability to carry out day-to-day tasks. It
can affect a person's mobility, one or more of the five senses, moods and perceptions, or the way the brain functions.
Disability support pension
Many people with disabilities are on the federal government's disability support pension. To be eligible for such a pension a person must have a physical, intellectual or psychiatric impairment. That impairment must be worth 20 points or more according to a set of tables Centrelink uses.
The tables are quite extensive. They include a table for people who are impaired due to alcohol or drug use. The tables allocate points according to the severity of a disability. For example, a person who is unable to hear at all and has limited ability to understand sign language is allocated more than 20 points.
Centrelink is part of the Federal Government's Department of Human Services. The department's media section says
there is no single definition of 'disability' applicable to all payments and services.
The federal Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations (DEEWR) has a mobility allowance. To receive the allowance a person
must have a physical or mental disability and because of that disability be unable to use public transport without substantial assistance. So many people with a disability recognised by other organisations would not qualify for a mobility allowance.
Students with disabilities
The Victorian Department of Education and Early Childhood Development has a specific program for students with disabilities. The 2013 guidelines for this program have seven broad groups of students with disabilities. They include physical and intellectual disabilities as well as visual or hearing impairments. They also have specific categories for behavioural and language disorders.
Many private and public organisations only mention those disabilities that prevent or make it hard for someone to use their services. The Blood Bank website lists disabilities that make it hard or prevent someone donating blood. VicRoads is concerned about disabilities that affect a person's ability to drive a car, and therefore makes them ineligible to obtain a license. While the airline Qantas wants to know how a disability might affect a person's ability to board a plane.
There is no single definition of disability that suits all people and organisations. Many organisations have broad categories of physical, intellectual and psychiatric disabilities. Some organisations have more comprehensive categories. While other organisations only concentrate on disabilities they think relevant to their services. So the answer to what is a disability very much depends on the organisation asking that question.
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