Disability has been often defined in different ways. Besides, the concept of definition has evolved over time, with the change in the approach towards disability. World Health Organization (WHO) provides a holistic definition of disability. According to WHO, disabilities is an umbrella term, covering impairments, activity limitations, and participation restrictions. Impairment is a problem in body function or structure; an activity limitation is a difficulty encountered by an individual in executing a task or action; while a participation restriction is a problem experienced by an individual in involvement in life situations.
Disability is thus not just a health problem. It is a complex phenomenon, reflecting the interaction between features of a person’s body and features of the society in which he or she lives. Overcoming the difficulties faced by people with disabilities requires interventions to remove environmental and social barriers.
According to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD, 2007), Disability results from the interaction between a non inclusive society and individuals. The Preamble of the Convention states that "disability is an evolving concept, and that disability results from the interaction between persons with impairments and attitudinal and environmental barriers that affects full and effective participation in society on an equal basis with others." Article 1 of the Convention states that "Persons with disabilities include those who have long term physical, mental, intellectual or sensory impairments which in interaction with various barriers may hinder their full and effective participation in society on an equal basis with others."
One thing that is clear from the above definition is that disability is a societal construct. It is not the physical or mental impairment of the person but the societal barriers that comes in the way of participation of people in the development process. Though the impairment of the person may be biological, but the way it is perceived and understood by the society, it becomes a disability. UNCRPD envisages to promote, protect and ensure the full and equal enjoyment of all human rights and fundamental freedoms by all persons with disabilities, and to promote respect for their inherent dignity.
The existing Persons with Disabilities Act, 1995 has been replaced by Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act, 2016 which now recognizes 21 types of disabilities.