GCU Difference Between Impairment Disability and Handicap Terms Answer

Answer the following questions:

1. What is the distinction between the terms impairment, disability, and handicap? Is it important to make this distinction? Why or why not?

2. Provide an example of a disability vs an impairment.

Respond to student discussion boards:

(Amb) Impairments, disabilities, and handicaps are in a relationship with each other, in which an impairment and disability influences a handicap. An impairment refers to a diagnosis, including ASD and other developmental disorders; it describes the areas of functioning that are impacted, in relation to the diagnosis. Impairments can result in the onset of disabilities and handicaps. A disability describes the inability of an individual to participate in a particular activity or event that is typically appropriate and relevant for a typically functioning peer in a similar age group. Handicaps are influenced by impairments and disabilities, as they describe a “disadvantage” that presents a barrier for the individual to complete a behavior or action (Ruble, Dalrymple, & McGrew, 2012). For example, if an individual is not given the opportunity to reach competency, a handicap would be posed, as skills necessary for functioning would not be attained. It is important to make a distinction because of the supports that are appropriate for an individual based on their impairment, disability, or handicap. Recognizing the difference could also influence one’s expectations of the individual and his/her abilities (Ruble, Dalrymple, & McGrew, 2012).


Ruble, L., Dalrymple, N. J., & McGrew, J. H. (2012). Collaborative model for promoting competence and success for students with ASD. New York: Springer.

(Deb) People often use the words handicap, disability, and impairment thinking they mean the same thing. They actually mean different things and it is important to know the difference. According to the World Heath Organization:

Impairment is any loss or abnormality of psychological, physiological, or anatomical structure or function. For example, hearing impairment is the loss of hearing.

Disability is a restriction or lack of the ability to perform an activity in a way considered normal. For example, someone who has difficulty learning to read in the typical manner may have a learning disability.

Handicap is a disadvantage that limits or stops fulfillment of a role considered to be normal.

To sum it up, “impairment refers to a problem with a structure or organ, disability is a functional limitation and handicap is a disadvantage filling a role in peer group” (Carter, 2019). Knowing the different meanings is important when planning programming and services for students.

Carter, S.L. (2019). Impairment, Disability and Handicap. Emory University School of Medicine, Department of Pediatrics. Retrieved from


(MIC) Impairment is any loss or abnormality of the psychological, physiological, on anatomical structure or function (Ruble, Dalrymple, & McGrew, 2012).). ASD can fall under this category due to the DSM-5 classification of ASD as a communication disorder.

Disability is the restriction of ability to perform an activity in the normal range that is the result of the impairment (Ruble, Dalrymple, & McGrew, 2012).

Handicap is defined as a disadvantage resulting from the impairment or disability that limits the individual (Ruble, Dalrymple, & McGrew, 2012).

All three have a defined requirement but yet all three are interdependent as well. Most often these terms are used interchangeably. I have even noticed people not using the term handicap because it has a negative connotation and some fine offensive. Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act has even removed handicap and replaced with “individual with a disability” (Department of Justice, 2017). I do think it is important to make the distinction. My son has a disability due to an impairment. He has Erb’s Palsy and does not have full use of his right arm. But he is not handicapped because while he does not have the ability to perform “normally” he is not impaired in his daily life. Making a distinction is needed for medical coverages through Medicaid and Medicare.

Ruble, L., Dalrymple, N. J., & McGrew, J. H. (2012). A collaborative model for promoting competence and success for students with ASD. New York: Springer.

Department of Justice. (2017). Amendment of Regulations Implementing Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973—
Nondiscrimination Based on Disability in Federally Assisted Programs or Activities. Retrieved from https://www.ada.gov/regs2016/504_nprm.html

Read “Positive Behavior Support Through Family-School Collaboration for Young Children with Autism,” by Blair, Lee, Cho, and Dunlap, from the Topics in Early Childhood Special Education (2010).


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