What Is a Disability?

Disabilities and chronic health problems are physical and/or mental impairments that substantially limit one or more major life activity. Many disabilities are invisible, some might be temporary, while others are chronic debilitating conditions. For many graduate students with disabilities, coming forward about a chronic illness or impairment may feel risky, especially in an environment where performance is presented as the quintessential measure of success.

Our Definitions...

Disabilities are as diverse and unique as there are people. Each person with disabilities understands their conditions and their relationship with their conditions differently. Here are some of the ways we define “disability”:

    • A disability is a piece of paper the doctors gave me.
    • Defining disability is hard, since calling it a ‘disability’ feels weird. I’ve never known anything else.
    • Disabilities are things that I have to deal with every day that other people don’t.
    • A disability is what makes it impossible for me to do things that most people can do, like sleep, breathe, talk, or plan; my disability is also the only way that I know how to do things in a world that sleeps, breathes, talks, and plans their lives to an entirely different rhythm. My disability is not who I am, and at the same time I would not be who I am without what it has made me to see, feel, hear, and understand, which other people may not.
    • I like the social model of disability. ‘Disability’ in this context refers to the prevailing social structures that do not properly accommodate for the needs of individuals with impairments.