Disability vs. Handicap: What Are the Differences?

For anybody suffering from disabilities or handicaps, these two terms being interchangeable can be an endless source of embarrassment. Most people wouldn’t even think twice about it, either. After all, they mean the same thing, don’t they?

The answer to that question is a firm “No.” There are many differences between disability vs. handicap, and it’s beneficial to know them. It doesn’t matter if it’s for legal reasons or to be more understanding and accommodating to sufferers across all walks of life.

So that you can gain a clearer understanding, we’re going to go through the main differences. We will explain the exact specifics of a disability and a handicap and what the implications of both are.

The Definition of Handicapped

We’ll start with the most fundamental definition from the standpoint of not causing offense or creating unnecessary conflict. The term handicap and handicapped gets thrown around very loosely by people who have never known a disabled person.

We’ve got a rough understanding of what a handicap means. It’s a general idea that somebody is unable to perform a task. It isn’t necessary for the handicap to point to a specific physical or mental condition, only that an impediment exists.

Why the need for the split definition, though?

It’s simple. The reason is that not everybody who is disabled is also handicapped. It might sound like a meaningless difference, but that’s the view of anybody not suffering from a condition.

Many disabled people do not want the label of being incapable of performing a task due to the potential social stigma. Imagine having the title of “handicapped” stamped up on you when you are still capable of performing a task.

It can be frustrating beyond words, which can be alleviated by having a handicap explained.

Examples of a Handicap

Most of the examples of a handicap revolve around specific activities. That’s why you so often see the term used in the context of sporting events. One handicap would be being unable to walk, for example.

A handicap will often imply some manner of inability to have physical independence. Depending on the condition, the disadvantages can be even more drastic.

A lack of ability to integrate into a social setting. The inability to be able to sustain yourself. Any part of your life could be susceptible to having a handicap.

What It Means To Have a Disability

The bluntest definition of a disability is something that prevents you from performing to an expected level of proficiency. It’s good to note that this doesn’t have to be physical, but it can be mental as well.

It doesn’t have to mean that you are incapable of doing something, only that you can’t do it to an average standard. It can be a tricky line to navigate. The trickiness comes from the persecution you can face from appearing in good health yet being unable to perform.

It’s less of a focus on the loss of opportunity, as in the case of somebody who has a handicap, but it is still life-altering. Even in the most minor of conditions, it can cause a complete change in the landscape of your life.

Examples of Disabilities

The most common disabilities are ones we see causing handicaps, but the truth is that a disability can be a great deal more subtle. Somebody who works in an office may not consider a leg injury a disability, as their job does not expect a high standard of movement or agility.

In comparison to that, a football player might fall under the definition of disabled. It’s the fact that they no longer meet the required parameters for their profession.

An even more subtle example would be something like social anxiety. In a severe enough form, this is a disability because the sufferer can no longer interact or socialize at an expected standard. It can even become a handicap, showcasing the line between the two terms.

Issues Caused by Disabilities

Though we mentioned that not everybody who is disabled has a handicap, there can still be roadblocks in the lives of the disabled. Since the range of issues varies in how extreme the severity becomes, it’s an experience unique to the individual.

An often seen pair of issues amongst anybody suffering from disabilities is finding work or earning disability benefits. It’s most often because of a chronic condition that debilitates them to the point of being unable to keep a steady job. In some situations, it can be because of discrimination.

It might sound like an issue that should never arise in this day and age, but the stark reality is that this occurs far too often. One reprieve for anybody facing these issues is to seek a disability lawyer.

A Better Understanding of Disability vs. Handicap

Armed with more information on the difference between disability vs. handicap will prevent you from making any unfortunate mistakes with the two terms. Most people wouldn’t take offense to a simple mistake, but it’s better to be safe than sorry when using a tool as powerful as language.

No matter our intention, our words have the potential to cut, soothe, and inform. By informing ourselves, we make it far more likely that they’ll avoid the cutting part. It also means that if you ever need to explain what is a disability or what is a handicap, you’ll have a far easier time doing so with this disability guide.

If learning new things is something that ignites a burning passion inside of you, then you’ll want to stick around on the blog. Do some reading through our articles where we cover topics like this and more.