Definition of the term Person with a disability

In Québec, a person with a disability means "a person with a deficiency causing a significant and persistent disability, who is liable to encounter barriers in performing everyday activities." Note that in this document, the term "impairment" is used instead of "deficiency."

Difference between an impairment and a disability

In an inclusive society, words make a difference. When we use accurate and respectful vocabulary instead of negative or pejorative expressions, we avoid spreading prejudice.

The term impairment refers to the organic aspect of a body part. It is therefore a characteristic of the person.

  • Sara has an auditory system impairment.
  • Hugo has a muscular system impairment.

An impairment creates certain disabilities.

Disability refers to a person’s aptitudes, in other words, how they function. A disability is a person’s reduced ability to carry out an activity or to function intellectually, psychologically, physiologically or anatomically.

  • Sara has an auditory system impairment. She has a hearing disability.
  • Hugo has a muscular system impairment. He has a walking disability.

Whether we use the word "impairment" or "disability" depends on what we want to emphasize: the organic aspect or the functional aspect.

Types of disabilities

A disability can be:

  • motor;
  • visual;
  • auditory;
  • intellectual.

It can also be related to:

  • speech;
  • language;
  • other senses;
  • organic functions;
  • an autism spectrum disorder;
  • a serious mental disorder.

The term "person with a disability" includes people who have significant and persistent disabilities.

Significant disability

A significant disability presents some degree of severity or gravity. However, it is not considered significant if the person no longer encounters barriers because they use a technical aid, such as a prosthetic or an orthotic device. For example, if a person cannot read because they have a visual disability, but they can read when they wear glasses, it is not a significant disability.

Persistent disability

A persistent disability is one which is expected to be life-long. Conversely, a disability caused by an illness or an injury whose effects will disappear is not considered persistent.

Barriers encountered

Barriers in carrying out everyday activities correspond to the difficulties people experience in their activities of daily living and their instrumental activities of daily living. Difficulties can also occur with other activities such as recreation, education or employment.

Here are a few examples of the difficulties that people with disabilities are likely to experience:

  • moving from one room to another;
  • going up or down stairs;
  • speaking so that the listener understands;
  • understanding what is being said during a conversation or a meeting or on the phone;
  • seeing the characters on a printed document or a screen even if you are wearing glasses or contact lenses.

Difference between a person with a disability and a person in a disabling situation

The expression "person in a disabling situation" is used to describe someone who encounters barriers in their daily life. It is also used for people with disabilities. However, there is a difference.

A disabling situation is the result of an interaction between a person’s disabilities, activities and environment. The accent is on the importance of acting on the person’s environment. According to this concept, if the physical and social environment is adapted, there is no disabling situation.

Certain changes can reduce barriers that are detrimental to a person’s ability to carry out daily activities, for example:

  • an entry with ground-level access;
  • sound signals at intersections;
  • simple pictograms to indicate washrooms in a public place.

The expression has a broader reach than the term "person with a disability." It includes people who have significant and persistent disabilities, but also those with temporary or mild disabilities. Disabling situations are circumstantial. They may also change during a person's lifetime, depending on the barriers they encounter in their environment in carrying out their activities.

Hence, a person who uses crutches for a few weeks after an accident and who encounters barriers is in a disabling situation but is not a person with a disability. This distinction is important in determining which government programs and measures they qualify for.

To find out more about disabling situations, see the International Network on the Disability Creation Process model This hyperlink will open in a new window..

Access to government programs

Government departments and agencies use the legal definition to establish their eligibility requirements for the various programs they are responsible for. However, they can determine more specific requirements.

The programs, measures and services for people with a disability, their families and their caregivers, as well as the eligibility requirements, are presented in the People with disabilities section.

Assistance and information

If you need information that applies to your or your child’s situation, see the Finding a health resource page.

If you need help accessing government programs and measures, consult Information and support services for people with disabilities.

Last update: December 12, 2023


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