By: Daniella Jade Lowe

When we think of disability we so often think of wheelchairs (understandable when you consider the disability symbol that is used everywhere), yet only 5% of disabled people actually use a wheelchair. People also tend to confuse a disability with a sickness. Disability vs Illness An illness is a sickness. Some illnesses are acute, which means they come on quickly and are over quickly (like a cold or the flu). Other illnesses are chronic, which means they last a long time and perhaps a lifetime (like asthma or diabetes). However, a disability is a physical or mental problem that makes it harder to do normal daily activities. You can be born with a disability or get it from an illness or an injury. Let’s break this down into simple terms: Physical impairments Well, this could include anything from a loss of a limb to an agility or sensory impairment, such as visual or hearing. It would also consist of health conditions with fluctuating effects such as Diabetes, Cancer, Osteoporosis, MS, ME, Fibromyalgia, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and Arthritis. Also involved would be progressive conditions such as Muscular Dystrophy and Motor Neurone Disease, and respiratory conditions such as Asthma, and Cardiovascular diseases, including Thrombosis, Stroke and Heart Disease. Mental impairments Well, this would include learning disabilities such as Downs Syndrome. It would also comprise of developmental disorders such as Autism, Asperger’s, Dyslexia and Dyspraxia. Also covered under mental impairments are mental health issues. This could include anything from severe Depression, Nervous Breakdown, OCD, Eating Disorders, Dementia, Bi-polar Disorder, Schizophrenia, as well as some personality disorders and self-harming behaviour. Long-term This is where the effect of the impairment has lasted or is likely to last for at least twelve months. There are also special rules for recurring or fluctuating conditions. Normal day-to-day activities Well, this would include everyday things that everyone does, like cooking a meal, having a bath or wash, or walking to the shop. What does disability not include? Definitely not included in the definition are conditions such as hay fever, alcoholism, addiction, exhibitionism, voyeurism or a tendency to steal abuse or set fires. Screening disability can be very difficult, especially since it’s challenging to distinguish between disability and impairment. In regards to disability, one must first measure the level of ones’ ability before they can determine disability. Also when dealing with disability, many of these individuals are stereotyped, ostracized and treated as less of a person based on the stigma that comes from ones’ opinion or idea of ‘normal’. Well, what is normal? Regarding one’s general health, the term is explained as, physically, mentally, and emotionally healthy. There is no exhaustive checklist which defines disability. What’s most important is the impact and effect of the condition on someone’s day to day activities. It is also important that you don’t make judgements about how impairment is caused. For example, liver disease caused by alcoholism would still be considered a disability, although alcoholism itself would not. The most important thing is to never make assumptions. Someone with a disability can be very, physically, fit and strong, highly intelligent and articulate. So, for those who are considered disabled out there, as you walk, hop, hobble or wheel remember that being disabled is only a state of mind!

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