Difference Between Disability and Handicap

It is a fact that whenever we hear the word disability, the image of a person sitting in a wheelchair comes to our mind. However, disabilities are of many different kinds and sometimes we are surprised to meet a person categorized as disabled as we find him perfectly normal. There is another word handicap that confuses many as they think of the two terms as synonymous and use them interchangeably. However, the two terms are not the same as there are people who feel that handicapped is not cool and is rather a derogatory term. This article attempts to bring out the differences between handicap and disability.


WHO defines disability as “any restriction or lack of ability to perform an activity in the manner or within the range considered normal for a human being”. It is a condition that places a limit on the mobility, vision, hearing, or any mental function of the person and may result from a congenital disease, accident, or even a mental trauma. A disability is not always physical confining the person in a wheelchair. It can be physical, mental, emotional, or a combination of these different types of disabilities. Mostly, a disability is definable in medical terms and the limit it poses on the movements, activities or sense of the person can be seen or felt. Any person who cannot perform activities that most normal people can because of a medical condition that does not allow him is said to be disabled.


A handicap is a constraint or restriction imposed upon an individual that prevents him from performing a role that is considered normal for most people. Disability may or may not be behind handicap. If there is something that one wants to accomplish but finds himself unable to accomplish it while all others are able to accomplish it, this inability is referred to as handicap. Any handicapped person finds accomplishing tasks more difficult because of a few disadvantages that are placed in his way. This is a concept that focuses more upon limitations or restrictions in the environment. A person from a particular social background is said to be handicapped because of shortcomings in his social, communicational, educational and occupational environment. These shortcomings prevent the person from accomplishing a task that he wants to accomplish.

What is the difference between Disability and Handicap?

• Disability is something that is difficult to overcome. It may be a result of a congenital disease or an accident. On the other hand, handicap may be a shortcoming because of educational or occupational drawback and can be removed.

• While the terms disabled and handicapped reflect the same shortcomings, people with disabilities dislike when referred to as handicapped as handicap is a politically incorrect word and hurts the feelings of individuals.

• People prefer to be called people with disabilities than being referred to as disabled or handicapped.

• The degree of inability to do something also makes a difference. If a person cannot even stand, let alone walk, and remains confined in a wheelchair, he is called disabled, but if he can walk with the support of crutches or a walker, he is said to be handicapped.