The United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) defines persons with disabilities as people “who have long-term physical, mental, intellectual, or sensory impairments, which, in interaction with various barriers, may hinder their full and effective participation in society on an equal basis with others.”
In all countries where there is USAID presence, USAID works with the host country to support them in their commitments to implement the CRPD. People with disabilities are intersectional–part of every population spanning across every age, ethnicity, sex, gender identity, race, sexual orientation, and socioeconomic level.
In the context of education programming, several related terms exist to communicate about the needs of learners with disabilities. What follows is a glossary to aid practitioners in understanding the nuances of disability.
Accessibility: The degree to which the physical and learning environment, transportation, information, and communications, including both human and technological communications systems and other facilities and services in both urban and in rural areas, are accessible to persons with disabilities.
Assistive Technology Device: Any item, piece of equipment, or product system, whether acquired commercially, modified, or customized, that is used to increase, maintain, or improve functional capabilities of persons with disabilities (e.g. screen reading software that enables a blind individual to access text in an audible format through synthesized speech outputs). Such a device may include Assistive Health Technology and Assistive Information Communication Technology.
Assistive Technology Service: Any service that directly assists an individual with a disability in the selection, acquisition, or use of an assistive technology device (e.g. training an individual with visual impairment to use built-in computer accessibility tools, such as text enlargement).
Auxiliary Aids and Services: Devices and services to improve access to and participation in a given activity for an individual with a disability. They may include services and devices such as qualified sign language interpreters; note takers; real-time, computer-aided transcription services; braille materials; and materials in electronic formats, among others.
Barriers: Aspects of society that intentionally or unintentionally exclude people with disabilities from full participation and inclusion in society. Barriers can be physical, informational, communication, legal, institutional, environmental, attitudinal, etc.
Braille: A system of writing people who are blind use consisting of raised dots that can be interpreted by touch. Each group of dots represents a letter, numeral, or punctuation mark. Typically, in younger grades, children learn individual braille letters that correspond to a phonetic syllable. Later, much like how words contract in the Arabic language, students learn how to use contracted braille (i.e. ‘A N D’ is represented as a single braille grouping of ‘Y’).
Built Environment: That which is commissioned, designed, constructed, and managed for use by people, and which includes external and internal environments and any component, facility, or product that is a fixed part of them.
Disability: The result of the interaction between a person’s impairment and environmental barriers. This occurs when people with impairments experience barriers to their full participation in society and their recognition, enjoyment, or exercise of human rights and fundamental freedoms in the civil, political, economic, social, cultural, or any other field.
Impairment: A concept that encompasses the full and diverse range of functional impairments, including physical, sensory, neurological, psychiatric, and intellectual—all of which may be permanent, intermittent, temporary, or perceived as impairment by society, but not necessarily by individuals. Note that most people with disabilities prefer to avoid the use of ‘impairment’.
Inclusion: Ongoing process of identifying and dismantling barriers that inhibit full participation, whether in the workplace, school, community, or elsewhere in society, and undertaking measures to facilitate direct and full participation of persons with disabilities.
Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs): Generic term for a diverse set of technological tools and resources used to communicate, create, disseminate, store, and manage information. With regard to persons with disabilities, these technologies include, for instance, braille printers, screen reading software, scanning machines, and voice recorders.
Medical Model: An attitude toward disability that assumes it is a health problem and emphasizes the “sickness” of the disability. Rather than emphasizing the whole society’s responsibility to fully integrate people with disabilities, the medical model transfers responsibility to the medical profession to “fix” disabilities.
Reasonable Accommodation: When needed in a particular case, necessary and appropriate modification and adjustments that do not impose a disproportionate or undue burden but ensure that persons with disabilities enjoy or exercise all human rights and fundamental freedoms on an equal basis with others.
Screen Reader: Generic term for a software application that rather than presenting web content visually, converts text into “synthesized speech” allowing the user to alternatively listen to content. Interpretations are then synthesized to the user with text-to-speech, sound icons, or a braille output device.
Social Model of Disability: A rights-based approach to disability that understands disability as a social construct, not an inherent quality. In other words, “disability” is not something that people possess, nor is it inherent in a person or group; rather, it is the inability of society to recognize differences and remove barriers that inhibit the full inclusion and participation of people with disabilities. The social model emphasizes the removal of societal barriers (environmental, institutional, and attitudinal) that exclude people with disabilities.
Universal Design: The design of products, environments, programs, and services to be usable by all people, to the greatest extent possible, without the need for adaptation or specialized design. “Universal design” does not exclude assistive devices for particular groups of persons with disabilities where this is needed.