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Conceptual Models of Disability

Condition: Disability means different things to different people. Not being able to do certain things -- such as hear, see, or walk – may be thought of as disabilities by some people. But with changes in the person’s environment, these impairments may not keep a person from living a full life.            

Background: According to the U.S. Census in 2010, about 56.7 million Americans had a disability. The World Health Organization has defined disability by a person’s ability to: 1) understand and communicate; 2) get around; 3) take care of oneself; 4) get along with others; 5) do household activities; 6) do work or school activities; and 7) participate in society. How hard it is to do each of these things determines how severe the disability is.    

Risk Factors: Older people are more likely to have a disability than younger people. Since people are living longer, the number of older people is growing. So the number of people with disabilities is also growing.      

Rehab Management: Rehab focuses on helping people with disability do as much as possible with the abilities they have. This may mean making changes in their home or workplace. Assistive devices such as hearing aids and ramps may make it easier for people to participate fully.

Other Resources for Patients and Families: Laws such as the Americans with Disabilities Act have tried to make sure that people with disabilities have access to public places and workplaces. Private and government agencies can help people obtain the help and devices they need. These groups have also tried to lessen the stigma of disability by educating people about the strengths and needs of disabled people.  


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