Social Work and Disability


The term 'disability' is regarded as a component of the human condition. Every individual will encounter some form of impairment in their life at some point, whether temporary or permanent. Those who sustain permanent impairment and live to an advanced age frequently face increasing difficulties with daily functioning and socialization. The joint family system existed in the primordial society and was a significant source of support, care, and warmth for individuals living with disabilities because individuals who did not have any form of disability assumed the responsibilities of mutual support and concern. The nuclear family system has become a significant barrier for individuals living with disabilities in the modern era, owing to the small number of people who live in joint families. Contemporary society sympathizes with them but regards them as unproductive and burdensome. In many families, disability as a condition is associated with religious belief and is viewed by the divine as a 'curse' on the family. All of these misconceptions and branding have led the population of disabled people to live completely unproductive and dependent lives. This disabling condition impairs physical and social conditions, preventing individuals from fully participating in society and enjoying equal rights and opportunities.

The United Nations estimates that 600 million people worldwide currently live with some form of physical, sensory, or mental disability and that this number is rapidly increasing (World Health Assembly 2005). Contemporary estimates of disability prevalence recognize the social and societal contexts that contribute to people with atypical characteristics being classified as disabled. As life expectancy increases as a result of technological advancements, the numbers and proportions of disabled people continue to grow. Increased disability rates impede social and economic development.

Individuals living with disabilities are systematically denied access to human rights, inclusion, communication, and basic services such as healthcare, education, and employment, despite the international and national declarations of their rights. Given the magnitude of the problem, it is critical that disability as a social, economic, and political issue receives increased attention. Social workers who work with individuals to effect change are expected to ensure that they are aware of the appropriate services available to individuals living with disabilities in order to facilitate their inclusion. As a result, social work in the field of disability has gained prominence in Indian social work education, and this module provides an introduction to the fundamental understanding of persons with disabilities in India. Additionally, the module discusses the definition, classification, causes, magnitude, and prevalence of disability.

Disability is defined as:

Disability is difficult to define because it varies in its nature, manifestation, and severity. Thus, comprehending disability requires a thorough understanding of the distinctions between the various types of disabilities. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and the United States Department of Justice defined 'disability' in 1991 as a physical or mental impairment that significantly limits one or more of an individual's major life activities.

The World Health Organization (WHO, 1976) distinguishes between impairment, disability, and handicap in three ways. Impairment is defined as any loss or abnormality in the structure or function of a psychological, physiological, or anatomical structure or organ. Any restriction or inability to perform an activity in the manner or range considered normal for a human being constitutes a disability.

A handicap is a disadvantage experienced by an individual as a result of an impairment or disability that prevents that individual from fulfilling a role that is considered normal in terms of age, sex, social, and cultural factors.

The Person with Disability Act 1995 defines a person with a disability as someone who has at least 40% of any disability as certified by a medical authority.

Types of Disabilities: 

The following are some of the more prevalent types of disabilities observed in India's human society:

  • Blindness
  • Visual impairment
  • Cure for leprosy
  • Impairment of Hearing
  • Disabilities of the locomotor system
  • Mental Illness and
  • Psychological Illness
  • Disabilities in Learning
  • Numerous Disabilities
  • Cerebral Palsy and Cerebral Palsy
  • Impairment of Multiple Sensations
  • Autism
  • Dwarfism
  • Deaf-blindness
  • Dystrophy of the Musculature
  • Physical Disabilities 


It is a term that refers to a condition in which a person has one or more of the following.

Complete blindness.Visual acuity in the better eye should not exceed 6/60 or 20/200 (Snellen) with correcting census.Limitation of the field of vision by at least a 20-degree angle.

Individuals with Low Vision: This term refers to an individual who, despite treatment or standard refractive correction, uses or is capable of using vision for planning and executing a task with an appropriate assistive device. Individual Who Has Been Healed of Leprosy: This term refers to anyone who has been cured of leprosy but is currently afflicted with one of the following conditions.

Sensitization loss in the hands or feet, as well as sensory and paresis loss in the eye and eyelids, but with no visible deformity. Deformity and paresis are visible, but they retain sufficient mobility in their hands and feet to engage in normal economic activity.

Extreme physical deformity and advanced age preclude the individual from engaging in gainful employment, and the expression "Leprosy Cure" shall reflect this.

Hearing Impairment: This is defined as a loss of 60 decibels or more in the better ear's conversational frequency range.

Locomotor Disabilities: This term refers to impairments of the bones, joints, and muscles that result in significant restriction of movement of the limbs or any other part of the body due to Cerebral Palsy.

Mental Retardation is a term that refers to a condition in which a person's mind is either arrested or incompletely developed. It is most often characterized by impairment of skills acquired during the development period that contribute to the overall level of intelligence, such as cognitive, language, motor, and social abilities. Mental retardation is classified into four distinct categories. Mild (IQ 50–60), Moderate (IQ 35–49), Severe (IQ 20–34), and Profound (IQ 20–34). (IQ less than 20).

Mental Illness: Any mental disorder other than mental retardation is considered mental illness. It is a medical condition that disrupts a person’s thinking, feeling, mood, ability to relate to others and daily functioning. Major depression, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, panic disorder, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), and borderline personality disorder are all serious mental illnesses. Treatment is available for mental illnesses.

A learning disability is a neurological condition that impairs an individual's ability to store, process, or produce information. Learning disabilities can impair an individual's ability to read, write, speak, spell, compute math, and reason, as well as impair an individual's attention, memory, coordination, social skills, and emotional maturity. Several common learning disabilities include the following:

  • Dyslexia is a language-based disability in which an individual experiences difficulty with specific language skills, most notably reading.
  • Dyscalculia is a mathematical disability in which an individual struggles to solve arithmetic problems and grasp mathematical concepts.
  • Dysgraphia is a type of writing disability in which an individual has difficulty forming letters, writing within a specified space, and expressing ideas.

Multiple Disabilities: 

A person may have a combination of two or more disabilities, which may include locomotor disability, including leprosy cure, blindness, low vision, speech and hearing impairment, mental retardation, and mental illness.

  • Cerebral Palsy is a group of non-progressive movement and posture disorders caused by abnormal development of or damage to the brain's motor control centers. It is a result of events that occur prior to, during, or after birth. Cerebral palsy is characterized by abnormal muscle control. These abnormalities are frequently accompanied by other neurological and physical abnormalities.
  • Multisensory Impairment: A multisensory impairment is any impairment that affects two or more of an individual's senses, such as sight, hearing, smell, taste, or touch, and is combined with learning disabilities, physical disabilities, or any other disabilities that impair an individual's ability to process information, communicate, develop, or educat
  • Autism: Autism is a complex brain disorder that affects children between the ages of three and four years. Symptoms include unusual ways of relating to others, delayed language development, and repetitive or stereotyped behaviors. These symptoms change over the course of a child's life, into adulthood, with some symptoms disappearing and others emerging. They are prevalent throughout all cultures.
  • Dwarfism-Dwarfism is a condition in which children are born with a small stature, ranging in adult height from 2 feet 8 inches to 4 feet ten inches. Also called skeletal dysplasia, it is a condition caused by over 150 disorders in which a child's bones do not grow normally. Genetic dwarfism is caused by a change in the egg or sperm cells prior to conception. It impairs a child's ability to grow to an average length, and the bones are frequently short and crooked, particularly in their arms, legs, and trunk, which are frequently shorter than the rest of their body.
  • Deafblind—According to the UK's Department of Health, a person is considered deafblind if their combined vision and hearing impairments impair communication, access to information, and mobility. This includes individuals who are experiencing progressive vision and hearing loss

Deaf-blindness refers to the coexistence of hearing and visual impairments, which results in severe communication and other developmental and educational needs that cannot be met in special education programs solely for deaf or blind children. strophy of the Musculature-Muscular dystrophy is a term that refers to a group of inherited disorders that cause muscle weakness and tissue loss over time.

Physical Disabilities-

Physical disability refers to the complete or partial loss of a person's bodily functions such as walking, gross motor skills, bladder control, and the ability to amputate any part of the body.

The Amount of Disability:

Disability is a global phenomenon that affects a sizable portion of the population in human society. The world's population is estimated to be growing rapidly. However, growth is not uniform. There will be no increase in the more developed regions, but it is expected to exceed fifty percent in the less developed regions. This increase is most noticeable in the senior population. As disability is perceived to be more prevalent among the elderly, the rapid growth of the population aged 65 and over will undoubtedly have an effect on the future prevalence of disability.

Disability prevalence among children is sometimes difficult to detect until the child reaches a few months of age. Numerous disabled infants and children die before they are recognized as disabled by a legally or medically competent individual. Infant mortality rates are higher in developing countries such as India.Disability prevalence rates among vulnerable groups of individuals, such as children, adolescents, women, and elders, indicate a greater risk of human rights violations and limited access to basic human needs. They receive very little information about the socialization process. They are socially excluded and continue to live in isolation. These groups are subjected to a variety of forms of abuse and exploitation, as well as inhumane treatment that diminishes their dignity and worth.

Disability Prevalence in India:

According to the 2001 Census, India has a total population of 21,906,769 people living with disabilities. There are 12,605,635 males and 9,301,134 females in this population, which includes individuals with visual, hearing, speech, locomotor, and mental disabilities. This equates to approximately 2.13 percent of the total population. A sizable proportion of disabled people live in rural areas. According to a 2002 report by the National Sample Survey organization,10.63 percent of disabled people have more than one type of disability.

Patel et al. (2009) analyzed 2002 data from the National Sample Survey Organization and concluded that the most prevalent type of disability affecting people of all ages in India is a locomotor disability. Mental disabilities are more prevalent in the working-age population, whereas visual and hearing disabilities are more prevalent among the elderly. Further onset locomotor and speech disabilities are more prevalent in childhood, whereas visual and hearing disabilities are more prevalent in adulthood. Mental disabilities are more prevalent in children and the younger working-age population. Severe disability is disproportionately prevalent in older adults.

The lives of disabled people are miserable due to physical, economic, and social barriers that prevent them from fully participating in society and enjoying the same rights and opportunities as other citizens. As a result, the issue of disability has a significant social dimension in terms of the relationship between the disabled individual and his environment. More than the physical, sensory, or mental disability itself, it is the interaction with the environment that determines how a person's disability affects their daily lives.

Causes Disability 

The factors that contribute to a person's disability conditions are numerous and varied. They can be broadly classified into three types: hereditary, congenital, and acquired.

  • Hereditary: There is widespread confusion among the general public regarding the nature of hereditary defects. The average person frequently conflates the terms hereditary, congenital, and familial. Nonetheless, the three terms are quite distinct from one another.

A congenital or familial defect may not be hereditary at all. A hereditary defect is one that is passed down through generations as a result of a disruption in the functioning of the inherent gene mechanism. Although a condition may be hereditary, it may not manifest itself at birth, for many years, or in the individuals' immediate family. Hereditary defects are passed down through generations via gene mutations.

In India, there is a dearth of factual data on disability caused by hereditary effects of defects. Among the Hindu majority in India, the practise of exogamy, which prohibits an individual from marrying within his immediate family, may be a determining factor in reducing the incidences of hereditary defects.

  • Congenital: Defects that are present at birth are referred to as congenital. Not all congenital abnormalities are inherited. The majority are caused by inactions, nutritional deficiencies, chemical factors, and other environmental factors. The following factors contribute to the development of certain congenital deformities.
  • Maternal malnutrition: The first eight weeks of human growth and development are critical for the embryo's structural development. The majority of non-hereditary congenital malformations develop during this time period. If maternal starvation occurs during the earlier stages of gestation, the embryo dies; however, if it occurs during the later stages of gestation, called the organo-genetic period, malformations occur. When a mother's nutritive content, such as vitamins and minerals, is deficient during gestation and, more specifically, during the organo-genetic period, congenital defects may manifest (e.g. Vitamin 'A' deficiency can result in impaired vision, cleft lip and palate, and other birth defects.

Rubella and German Measles infection during the first two months of pregnancy can result in congenital defects such as hydrocephalia, deaf-mutism, and cataract. Other maternal infections include mumps, chickenpox, and scarlet fever.

The Rh Aspect:Blood incompatibility is also a cause of the congenital disorders.

  • Diseases: There is a higher incidence of congenital defects such as club foot, claw hand, and missing finger in the offspring of diabetic mothers.
  • Radiation: Exposure to x-ray, scan, and other technologies has a detrimental effect on embryonic growth, which can result in offspring with disabilities.
  • Chemical Agents: Certain congenital deformities are a result of the incorrect use of certain highly concentrated chemical agents or ingredients.
  • Mother's Glandular Disorder: The effects of endocrine disorders on pregnant women have been linked to the development of deformities in infants.
  • Mechanical Factors: A few congenital defects can be caused by the foetus experiencing abnormal pressure or other mechanical factors. A foetus in this abnormal position develops a club foot, a club hand, or dislocated wrists and knees.

(Acquired) Adventitious:

The defects may be acquired as a result of (a) birth injuries (b) pathological conditions and disease (c) accidents (d) nutritional deficiencies (e) abnormal postures (f) war or disaster-related consequences (g) poverty, and (h) other causes.

Birth Injuries: A large number of brain disabilities are the result of birth injuries. Premature birth, Caesarean section, prolonged lack of oxygen due to respiratory tract obstruction, precipitate birth, haemorrhage, improper use of forceps, and anaesthetics and drugs such as morphine can all result in severe brain injuries such as brachial palsy or cerebral palsy. Difficult labour caused by midwives' ignorance and incompetence may result in cerebral palsy and other brain injuries.

Physical disabilities are frequently associated with infectious diseases such as whooping cough, measles, scarlet fever, meningitis, encephalitis, tuberculosis of the bones and joints, smallpox, and poliomyelitis.

Accidents: Permanent disability can occur as a result of industrial accidents, highway accidents, war, or natural disasters. Industrial accidents are caused by a lack of adequate safeguards for machineries, external factors such as poor ventilation, inadequate lighting, insufficient space, unsanitary conditions, unusual temperature, and unsafe working conditions, as well as other factors caused by carelessness and human interference.

Nutritional deficiencies: Nutritional deficiencies result in decreased resistance to disease, which can result in disability

Consequences of war or disaster: War is a major factor in permanently disabling combatants on the battlefield, as well as civilians forced to bear the hazards of war.

Poverty: Poverty, when combined with ignorance and disease, creates an ominous trio. Poverty inevitably results in disability, and disability inevitably results in poverty.

Additionally to the causes mentioned previously, illiteracy, marriage between blood relatives, a shortage of medical personnel, a lack of requisite institutions, the masses' traditional fatalism, and other psychosocial problems all contribute to physical and mental disabilities.

Summary: This electronic text provides a concise overview of the concept of disability, from its definition to the various types of disabilities, their magnitude, prevalence, and causes. The subsequent modules will detail each aspect of disability in detail in order to help the learner gain a better understanding of each.This electronic text is accompanied by an electronic tutorial that incorporates multimedia and innovative techniques in order to provide the learner with a quick and easy understanding of the lesson delivered in this module. Additionally, a glossary of terms, web resources, and bibliography are included for this e-content. Additionally, self-stimulation for assessment and evaluation is included to ensure the learner's effective utility of this content. This enables the learner to quickly assess his or her comprehension of the module's contents. The learner is encouraged to expand on this in order to develop a thorough understanding of the content.


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