The Center for An Accessible Society Disability Issues Information







The social model of disablement gives us a new international tool
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May 29, 2001 -- Last Monday the World Health Organization approved a revision of the "International Classification of Impairments, Disabilities, and Handicaps," giving us an international "common language with which to communicate the consequences of health conditions, and to describe and measure human functioning."

In 1980, the World Health Organization published the ICIDH as a classification of the "consequences of disease" -- a first effort to deal with the reality that "impairments, disabilities and handicaps" are more than diseases themselves and include socioeconomic and cultural factors.

After two decades, the growing understanding of disability as an interaction between the individual and the environment prompted further revision. The new document, called the International Classification of Functioning, Disability and Health, or ICF -- reflects this "new paradigm" of disability, offering what it calls "a framework for understanding the dimensions of disablement and functioning at three different levels: body, person and society." As did the previous manual, the ICF will serve as a classification tool for international scientific, data collection, managerial, legislative and social policy use. The ICF "is not a tool for labeling persons with disablements as a separate group," say those who worked on the revision. "The classifications are applicable to all people irrespective of health condition."

The new manual "will help monitor and explain health care and other disability costs. Measuring functioning and disablements will enable to quantify the productivity loss and its impact on the lives of the people in the society. The classifications will also be of great use in the evaluation of intervention programs," says the panel which worked on the revision. The ICIDH's definitions of disability have been used legislation and social policy; those who worked on the revision believe the ICF will "become the world standard for disablement data and social policy modeling" and "will be introduced in the legislation of many more countries around the globe."

For a fuller explanation of the new document (until recently called the ICIDH-2), visit

The new ICF can be downloaded as a PDF file at

Read more about ongoing research on definitions of disability at

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