ICF on the concept of disability

The ICF conceptualises disability and functioning as “outcomes of interactions between health conditions (diseases, disorders and injuries) and contextual factors” (ICF: 10)

“Among contextual factors are external environmental factors (for example, social attitudes, architectural characteristics, legal and social structures, as well as climate, terrain and so forth); and internal personal factors, which include gender, age, coping styles, social background, education, profession, past and current experience, overall behaviour pattern, character and other factors that influence how disability is experienced by the individual” (ICF: 10).

There are three levels of human functioning: body part, whole person, and person in social context (ICF: 10).

“Disability therefore involves dysfunctioning at one or more of these same levels: impairments, activity limitations and participation restrictions” (ICF: 10).

“Impairments are problems in body function or structure such as a significant deviation or loss” (ICF: 10).

“Activity Limitations are difficulties an individual may have in executing activities” (ICF: 10).

“Participation Restrictions are problems an individual may experience in involvement in life situations” (ICF: 10).

Links are then made between disability and levels of functioning associated with a health condition. The example is given of a previously treated psychotic disorder (health condition) resulting in denial of employment due to prejudice (participation restriction) (ICF: 17)

Different levels of disability are then linked with different interventions, so that participation restrictions are dealt with by accommodations, anti-discrimination legislation, public education and universal designs (interventions) and Environmental change, Employment strategies, Accessible services, Universal design, and Lobbying for change (prevention). (ICF: 18)





Author: Caroline Lambert

I am a postgraduate student at the London School of Economics. My background is in discrimination law. I have a particular interests in disability discrimination and human rights. I fit the Equality Act definition of a disabled person.

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