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A disability is a condition that affects an individual’s ability to undertake everyday activities. Approximately 15% of the world’s population have some form of disability. This accounts for over a billion people. There are many different types of disabilities, which include but are not limited to physical disabilities, hearing and vision impairments, and learning disabilities.

People with disabilities have the same health needs as anybody else, however, evidence suggests that they have a greater risk of experiencing health problems as a direct result of their disability or because they are more susceptible to secondary conditions, such as pain and depression. The page Disabilities and Health provides information to help those dealing with disability to manage their condition, maintain their independence, and achieve optimal health.

Disabilities and Rehabilitation explores ways in which people with disabilities can live independently and overcome barriers to health care, education, employment, and support services.

If you want to learn more about disabilities in general or would like to be directed to other key sources of information, see our Self Help Resources section.

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A disability is a condition which affects an individual’s ability to undertake everyday activities. The World Health Organization defines disability as an umbrella term, which covers impairments, activity limitations, and participation restrictions. Disability is therefore understood as the interaction between features of a person’s body and the social and environmental barriers of the society in which he or she lives.

There are different types of disability, including:

  • Physical disability: Physical disabilities affect the body’s ability to function and move. They may result from congenital conditions, or be caused by aging, health conditions or injuries. Many people with physical disabilities rely on mobility aids to get around.
  • Vision disability: The term vision disability refers to people who have impaired vision or a complete loss of vision. Some people are born with impaired sight, while others will develop it as a result of illness, trauma or aging.
  • Hearing disability: People who are partially or completely deaf are said to have hearing disabilities. While some hearing impairments are present at birth, others develop later in life due to aging, trauma or illness.
  • Psychological disorders: Psychological disorders, such as schizophrenia, dementia and obsessive compulsive disorder, are often complex conditions which can affect an individual’s ability to carry out everyday activities.
  • Learning disabilities: People may suffer from conditions which affect their ability to learn and master academic skills, such as reading, writing and speech. Learning difficulties may also affect the manner in which an individual processes or expresses information. Examples of learning difficulties include speech disorders, dyslexia and dyspraxia.
  • Brain and spinal disabilities: Brain and spinal disabilities are usually the result of an accident or trauma. As the most important structures in the body have been damaged, these kinds of disabilities can have lifelong implications for the individual, and can include paralysis or brain damage. 
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People with disabilities have the same health needs as anybody else – to stay well, active, and a part of the community. Having a disability does not mean a person is not healthy or that he or she cannot be healthy. However, evidence suggests that people with disabilities have a greater risk of experiencing health problems as a direct result of their disability or because they are more susceptible to secondary conditions, such as pain and depression. With the right tools and information, those dealing with disability can manage their condition, maintain their independence, and achieve optimal health.


People with disabilities should follow the same physical activity guidelines that are important for everyone. For adults, this means engaging in 30 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise a day. If you or a loved one is not able to meet these guidelines, consult with your health care provider about the appropriate amounts and best types of physical activity that is available to you.


Eating a healthy, balanced diet is extremely important for good health. This should include plenty of fruits and vegetables, complex carbohydrates, protein, and a limited intake of sugar, salt and saturated fat. If an individual has problems which affect their eating patterns, a nutritionist can offer valuable advice.

Mental health and wellbeing

Those with disabilities are more susceptible to feeling isolated from others, having low self-esteem or experiencing negative emotions regularly. With the right treatment and support, these feelings can be treated or managed. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggests talking with a health care professional if these feelings begin to interfere with your daily life.

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People with disabilities have generally poorer health, lower education achievements, fewer economic opportunities and higher rates of poverty than people without disabilities. This is largely due to the lack of services available to them and the many obstacles they face in their everyday lives. Rehabilitation is a process that aims to enable people with disabilities to reach their optimal physical, mental, intellectual and social functional levels. Rehabilitation is designed to empower those who face disability by giving them the tools they need for independent living.

Medical care and rehabilitation services

Lack of appropriate medical care and rehabilitation services for people with disabilities creates a barrier to full inclusion and participation in all aspects of life. Once diagnosed with a disability, find out what health services are available in your community and whether you will be referred to a specialist care team to help you arrange appointments, transport and consultations as and when they are required. Depending on your specific condition, you may require access to a variety of people including specialist nurses, speech and language therapists, consultants, occupational therapists and physiotherapists.

Community-based rehabilitation

Community-based rehabilitation focuses on enhancing the quality of life for people with disabilities and their families, by ensuring inclusion and participation in education, employment, health and social services. Look up and get in contact with community-based rehabilitation programs in your area that can assist you to gain or regain your independence through employment or other forms of meaningful activity.

Assistive devices and technologies for independent living

There is a huge variety of equipment available to help people with disabilities of all kinds, and to encourage independence and participation in society.  Assistive devices and technologies such as wheelchairs, prostheses, mobility aides, hearing aids, visual aids, and specialised computer software and hardware increase mobility, hearing, vision and communication capacities

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