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Do the words disability and handicapped mean the same thing?

This is the second in a series of posts to explain some of the basic ideas of inclusion and normalization.

The first was from one of my heroes Norm Kunc. Norm Kunc| What’s Your Credo?

If you find these useful, I hope you will comment and then share them on Facebook, Twitter and your other social media. Thanks. Mary

Words and labels make a big difference in our lives. How you answer this question can make all the difference for a person you love.

“Disability” or “Handicapped”?

Do the words disability and handicapped mean the same thing?

The short answer is NO. Disability and handicapped do not mean the same thing. And the differences are important. Is Stevie Wonder handicapped?

Does Stevie Wonder have a disability?

“A DISABILITY refers to a reduction of function or the absence of a particular body part or organ.”

So YES, Stevie Wonder, who is blind, would qualify as a person with a disability.

A disability is usually a lifelong condition: autism, an intellectual disability (the new term for mental retardation), cerebral palsy, or being deaf or blind….

Does Stevie Wonder have a handicap?

“A HANDICAP is viewed as a disadvantage resulting from a disability that limits or prevents fulfillment.”

Does being blind prevent Stevie Wonder from singing or achieving personal fulfillment as an entertainer? NO. So Stevie Wonder, though he has a disability, does not have a handicap.

Does Stevie Wonder need support? Of course. If Stevie Wonder did not have a personal assistant or any of the other modifications and adaptations he needed, then he might be handicapped.

See the difference?

Terrence Parkin swam in the 2000 and 2004 Olympics, winning a Silver Medal for South Africa. Does he have a disability? Yes, he is deaf. Does he have a handicap? Not as long as they add strobe light signals to the usual auditory buzzer to start the race. If however, the committee didn’t agree to add the strobe lights, then Terrence would have been handicapped and unable to participate in the Olympic Summer Games. Being handicapped can depend on the attitudes and social construction of the culture.

Disability is socially constructed

Like many people my age, I have trouble reading small print, (Disability). If I lived in a society where there were no books, or it was against the law to teach women to read, it might not matter if my eyesight was as sharp as it was when I was younger. However, in my culture, so many people wear glasses there is no stigma attached to having the disability of poor eyesight. So, I do not have a handicap. If I use a wheelchair and the building is accessible, I can still have a disability, but I can go to the grocery, do my banking… and not be handicapped. (I hope this makes sense. We will talk more about this in a future post.)

Why is this important?

If you or someone you love has a disability, it is not the end of the world. Even though there might not be a medical miracle or cure at this time, the disability is just a disability. No one wants to be different than anyone else. No one wants to have a harder time doing things than other people, but with the right supports it is possible to have a fulfilling and satisfying life, and not be handicapped.

This is a message full of hope. Robert Schuller says, “Look at what you have left, not what you have lost.” Physical, Occupational, Speech Therapists, Teachers, Counselors, as well as family members, friends and neighbors can look at their attitudes toward a person with a “disability” and rather than get stuck on something they can’t fix, instead spend their energy on creating an inclusive environment that is accessible for all of us.

This is our call to action: We can each think about what we can add, subtract or change to the environment to give a person with a disability the support they need so they will never have to be handicapped.

In the comments tell me what you are thinking. Do you have a story to share? How are you making your child or loved one less handicapped?

Keep Climbing: Onward and Upward

All my best,


Bauer and Shea (1997) Special education: A social systems perspective. Brown and Benchmark: Chicago.p. 12.

Just learned from Katie Snow of Disability is Natural:


Thanks to the hard work of the Advocacy Leadership Network (ALN) of Hamilton County (Ohio) DD Services, the Hamilton County Board of Commissioners officially resolved that “accessible” will replace “handicapped” on all new and replacement signs in the county! ALN, composed of leaders who have disabilities, had previously been instrumental in having the phrase “mental retardation” removed from state laws in Ohio.

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117 Responses to “Do the words disability and handicapped mean the same thing?”

  • Galv says:

    In 1915, the term “handicapped” was applied to disabled children. By 1958, the word was used to describe all disabled persons—adults and children with physical or mental disabilities.
    Galv recently posted..SUBJ1In 1915, the term “handicapped” was applied to disabled children. By 1958, the word was used to describe all disabled persons—adults and children with physical or mental disabilities.

  • The basic issue in my mind is that public access establishments should have wheelchair ramps for easy mobility access of those in wheelchair and seniors. It would be very beneficial.

  • John Adkisson says:

    This article is awesome! I really think it’s important to develop the narrative that an inability to do something is not bad, just not what so many people are used to. As humans, we have a very natural tendency to reject things we are uncomfortable with, negatively stigmatizing them. This is destructive to our society because it marginalizes many people who are perfectly capable of going above and beyond in their daily lives. Overall, I think it’s very good that you are expressing that disability is a social construct. If we (as a society/culture) did not think it was bad from a young age, then it would not be bad at all.

  • Mary E. Ulrich says:

    Hi Julie,
    I love your last sentence where you said, “I believe people with disabilities are not disabled deep in the heart.” That is beautiful.
    The only thing I can recommend for you, is to MODEL for the other people in the dining room how to interact with the young man. I’m sure the person with the disability knows others are afraid, but he doesn’t know why or what to do.
    If you go up to him and say hi, and smile it might make a difference. If he can’t talk, maybe he will shake your hand or give you a high 5. You can say, “hi, I’m Julie, what’s your name?” and see if he answers. If he doesn’t, then there might be a staff person who can be a communication partner. Then, every time you go in the dining room, repeat the same conversation. Try to establish a specific routine. “Hi, I’m Julie, it’s so good to see you today (name)” This is called a “script.” and works well with many people who have trouble communicating.
    You must be a good person to try and help this person. Thanks. Mary

  • Julie Chang says:

    I think this is very interesting. I work in a dinning hall where there is an employee with disability, although I don’t know what his disability is. He would repeat words and do not speak clearly, he is also tall, I could tell from others reaction towards him, there are afraid of him. I felt ashamed of those people’s reaction. He doesn’t do anything wrong or harm you, why you should be afraid of him. Maybe they are physically disabled, but I believe they are not disabled deep in their hearts.

  • Brian Hester says:

    I’m happy that I got this opportunity to read this simplification on disabilities and handicaps. So, the concept of nature (disabilities) vs nurture (environmental and societal handicaps)stands out here to me. So, can those in the position of helping the disabled create handicaps( barriers)themselves ? For example an overprotective parent with a child who has epilepsy.

    • Mary E. Ulrich says:

      Hi Brian,

      Great question. Helping and hurting all depend on attitudes, opportunities and environmental barriers. If someone doesn’t give a person (with epilepsy, or not) the same civil rights and opportunities that other people have, then things like “learned helplessness,” “poor self-esteem and confidence” can be formed. We all need nurturing but you’re right, people and the environment make a difference.

  • Maggie Rosenberger says:

    I really enjoyed this article because it makes it clear that a disability and handicap are not the same thing. I’ve worked with students with disabilities since I was in elementary school and for as long as I can remember people always said “the handicap classroom”. I think this article will help people understand the difference and as long as you’re willing to help your friend or sibling with a disability, they are not handicapped.

    • Mary E. Ulrich says:

      There is a lot of hope when we understand there is something we can do to prevent a “handicap”. Thanks for your comment Maggie.

  • Megan Bryan says:

    I enjoyed this reading the most because it is straight to the point. Not enough people understand that being handicapped means you are at a disadvantage, but just because you have a disability it does not mean you are handicapped. The examples used in this article were very helpful. People need to stop looking down or having pity toward those who have disabilities, they are just as capable of achieving great things.

    • Mary E. Ulrich says:

      Hi Megan,
      Glad you can help us spread the message. People with disabilities want right, not charity or pity. It would be a great day when we have universal design and that would take away many of the barriers of being “handicapped.”

  • Hannah Earlywine says:

    I found this article interesting, I don’t think that many people, including myself, understand this. Everyone kind of uses both terms as the same thing, but after reading this I understand the difference. It’s a fairly simple concept, but I feel like not that many people know. I liked the comparison to Stevie Wonder, it really made everything make sense.

    • Mary E. Ulrich says:

      You’re right Hannah, most people don’t know there is a difference. Thanks for helping us spread the word and reduce those “barriers.”

  • Amanda McCarthy says:

    I really enjoyed this reading. I think it’s something everyone should read really. I know handicap and disability are very confusing and people use them interchangeably even though you’re right they don’t mean the same thing. I think this is something everyone should read. I mean I’m a special education major and I didn’t even truly know the difference between the two. I can only imagine how people who have no interest in this situation would think. This is a very important topic that needed to be brought up, and should be brought up more.

    • Mary says:

      You’re right Amanda, most people don’t know the difference–and actually for them it’s not a big deal. But it is for teachers and others who are trying to break down those physical and attitude barriers and give skills, opportunities, and hope to people who can’t do much about the actual “disability”–but can do something about NOT being “handicapped.”

  • Lacy Morris says:

    I enjoyed reading this post and think more people should read it. It is so common today that people don’t know the difference between a disability and handicapped. Also, I agree with what Molly said; I like the way you started out with Stevie Wonder because it just goes to show having a disability like he does won’t hold him back from doing what he loves and that shouldn’t be the case for anyone. He is such an inspiration for not letting it stop him. I wish more people would realize the difference. Even myself am still learning some differences that I wish I was taught along time ago!

    • Mary says:

      Stevie Wonder is inspiring. I was watching the previews for the ParaOlympics and thinking about their strength and determination to not be “handicapped”.

  • Jacob says:

    I really liked enjoyed this article. This article plainly put the difference between handicapped and disability. This article made me reflect on how often I and people in my surroundings use these words out of context. Just because you are handicapped does not leave you at a disadvantage (not that being handicapped is a disadvantage.) I loved how this article stated it, can he still sing and play to his full potential even though he blind? then he isn’t handicapped. I will use this as a reference until I have the terminology down.

    • Mary E. Ulrich says:

      Good. I’m glad these articles are helpful. They lay the foundation of everything we are talking about.

  • Molly Keane says:

    I really enjoyed this article. I really like how you started it out with Stevie Wonder because I think he is such an inspiration to everyone, even if you don’t play the piano. I realized after reading this article I never really did know the proper definition of a disability or handicap. I always thought that handicap meant you physically couldn’t do something and that a disability was mentally, but this article taught me the proper way to define both.

    • Mary E. Ulrich says:

      Most people don’t know there is any difference in the two words. I hope you can see how being able to teach someone a skill or change the environment or a person’s attitude will make all the difference. Watch the video with Aimee Mullins–I think you will enjoy that one too.

  • Courtney Magoto says:

    I really enjoy how you start the article with Stevie Wonder. I played the piano when I was younger and I always found him to be inspirational. I actually never saw him as someone with a disability till I was older. To me he was awesome, he was a man who could play the piano with out looking. As a little girl I couldn’t imagine not looking down at the keys I was playing. I also think that you did an excellent job of making a distinction between being handicapped and disabled!

    • Mary E. Ulrich says:

      Hi Courtney, You made me laugh because I also remember being told not to look at the keys. 🙂 Stevie Wonder really is a wonder. We need more people like him, he has broken a lot of ground.
      I just learned a man who is deaf is playing in the Super Bowl. Definitely –not handicapped. 🙂

  • Morgan Ayers says:

    I really enjoyed reading this article. While I was reading, I realized that I never really knew there was a correct definition of handicapped and a disability. I used to think that being handicapped just meant you were physically unable, and having a disability meant having a disorder mentally, but now I know that is not the case.

    • Mary E. Ulrich says:

      You’re right Morgan, most people don’t know the difference, yet, it means soooo much because it means the modifications and accommodations to the environment can make all the difference. 🙂

  • Jaclyn says:

    I Remember being in class and seeing people make fun of the kids who weren’t like “them” it always made me sad to see. I wasn’t raised to judge others, so I never did. I always invited the special needs kids to my table at lunch all through out my school career. I took a class and played basketball with a boy with down syndrome and it meant the world to him. I wish everyone understood that kids with special needs are firstly, kids.

  • Grace Gordon says:

    I completely agree with you that a disability is not the same as a handicap. People in this generation do not understand the difference and personally I think that is a shame. What is even worse is that students in school are not corrected when they call a disabled child handicapped. Sure, a disability can be difficult to life with but not always does that handicap you. I think this article should be required for all students to read so they know the difference and treat people just as equally as someone without the disability.

  • Kyle English says:

    Before reading this article I never really separated the difference in the definitions of handicap and disability. However, after reading it I was able to finally get the picture and see the difference. Using the example with Stevie Wonder helps a lot with classifying the difference. However not only did this open up the difference between the two for me, but it also showed how the handicaps are made from the environment. It opens up to where people can stop these handicaps from happening, if they just can learn what I just did.

    • Mary E. Ulrich says:

      The hopeful message of separating “disability” from “handicap” is exactly what you talked about. We can make small changes that can mean a lot.

  • Tyler Deye says:

    I think that this is a very effective and well written article because it brings up a very good point, to often we as humans do not fully understand the power and direction of our words, not only with just handicapped and disabled, but with many other words as well. With this being said, the article made me think about what words I use when I may be categorizing, describing, or just bluntly talking about something. In a way this article made me rethink my paradigm on language and its power. I believe that we as humans almost take language for granted, but do not take the time to sit back and realize how powerful of an attribute that it is. This is why I loved this article, not only because of how it made me rethink the power and differences of the words disabled and handicapped, but because it also made me realize that I to often do not fully realize the words I am using on a day to day basis.

    • Mary E. Ulrich says:

      You’re right Tyler, we take our words for granted. We build our communication paradigm from our childhood. And, unless some transformational experience interrupts our usual patterns, we just continue and are unaware of the words we use.

  • Britt says:

    My thoughts on this article is that it is inspirational. I think the quote from Robert Schuller when he says, “Look at what you have left, not what you have lost” is powerful. I think people jump to conclusions and when they see a person who is disabled they immediately think they have a handicap and they cannot do anything for themselves. But this is not true. I think this article described the definitions for handicapped and disabled really well and gave appropriate examples to show how just because you have a disability such as Stevie Wonder that does not mean you can’t do anything you put your heart and mind to. I do not have any loved ones with any serious disability but as a future teacher I know I will be meeting many people from all backgrounds and am going to have to know that they cannot be left out because they are humans too.

    • Mary E. Ulrich says:

      Thanks Britt. Disability and Handicapped are hard concepts when the rest of our culture blends them together. But, this is where our hope lies. We may not be able to change the disability–but we can certainly try to change attitudes and environmental barriers.

  • Katie Koerner says:

    This post made me realize that I really didn’t know the difference between the words disability and handicapped. I often just assumed they were the same because if someone has a disability then that means they’re handicapped. But I know now that are two totally different things. Disability might be being blind or being deaf or having down syndrome but this wouldn’t mean you’re handicapped because those with a disability can do things that wouldn’t categorize them as being handicapped. Like for the instance above, Mary you stated that Stevie Wonder is blind which is a disability but isn’t handicapped because he has assistance to help him with his disability. Reading the post above I definitely know the difference between them both and know the true meanings behind them.

    • Mary E. Ulrich says:

      Glad this helps Katie, it makes such a big difference to teachers and therapists because it means we can actually do something.

  • Olivia Eckstein says:

    I have personal experience with the words disability and handicap. Both my father and my cousin have disabilities. My dad has a back disability. It keeps him from working physical jobs. He used to be a CSI for the Hamilton County Sherif’s department but had to retire on disability at 37 years old. He now has a desk job that he hates. My cousin has autism and has a very hard time coping with it. At school, he was made fun of a lot. He only says very few words, but he is very good with numbers. He could tell you all his friends, family and cousins their birthdays and exactly how old they are. It is amazing the things he can remember that have to do with numbers. I could never remember the things he does. Sure, these disabilities may buffer my dad and cousin from having an easy life, but they make do with what they have and with the help of the people around them.

    • Mary E. Ulrich says:

      Sounds like your family helps give support to both your dad and your cousin. We will be talking about “systems theory” and it will be interesting to hear what you think.

  • Katie says:

    I enjoyed reading this blog post. It was helpful because I now understand more clearly what the difference between a disability and a handicap are. I liked the quote that was mentioned in the post because it can relate to many situations and many people. It is possible to make people feel comfortable just by making things more accessible for them. I think knowing the difference between a disability and a handicap are relatable to my major, early childhood education. By creating a more open room accessible for a wheelchair or having worksheets with braille or larger writing can help students who have a disability refrain from having a handicap too. Everyone deserves to feel comfortable, so in my future classroom I plan on putting an extra effort into making it more accessible for all types of students and learners.

    • Mary E. Ulrich says:

      HI Katie,
      Sounds like you have a wonderful attitude. Everyone does need support and to feel comfortable. And physical accessibility is usually an easy way to start that can make a big difference. Thanks for your comment.

  • Katy Cornelius says:

    That was a great article! It reminds me of the summer camp I work at where the word handicapped is unacceptable. One thing we do at camp is canoeing and it’s great to see campers that have wheelchairs go canoeing and it’s so wonderful when they realize they don’t have a handicap just a disability.

  • Mary says:

    Well said, Ed. We don’t realize it, but we (society) could make everything a whole lot easier.

  • Ed Carlin says:

    I think this is a great article that shows that just because someone has a disability does not mean that they are limited to what they can do in life. The one thing that caught my attention was that “being handicapped can depend on the attitudes and social construction of the culture.” I thought this was important because if we as a society are not willing to help provide support for those with a disability then we are essentially responsible for making them handicapped. We all have to work together to help make sure everyone has the same opportunities no matter if they have a disability or not.

  • Adrianne Lanyi says:

    I totally agree with your distinction between disability vs. handicap. Until I was apart of this class, I didn’t think about the differences between each word. I would use them interchangeably without even thinking about the extreme contrast. With the definition in mind, wouldn’t almost all of us be considered to have a disability (to some extent) based off of the definition? Everyone has something in their lives that they are unable to do such as someone who is color blind or someone who someone who cannot read at a proficient level. On a lower level we could apply disability to other parts of our lives like someone who cannot use a computer very well or someone who cannot draw or paint.
    I see a handicap as a reaction to your disability. If you aren’t proactive or if you let the disability control your life then you have a handicap. For example, a person who cannot read well and does not do anything to help his/her situation would be considered a handicap. Or on the lower level…for the person who struggles with computer use…if they don’t choose to learn how to use it, then yes they will be considered “computer handicapped”. With a negative outlook on one’s disability, handicaps form.

    • Mary says:

      You’re right Adrianne, we do each have things we are good and not good at. And, our attitude about getting help does make a difference. There are really two kinds of people, the disabled and the yet-to-be’s.

  • Sally Beiting says:


    I really like the quote you added that Robert Schuller says, “Look at what you have left, not what you have lost.” It reminds me of Michelle Akers, who was a professional women’s soccer player that was diagnosed with chronic fatigue and immune dysfunction syndrome (CFIDS). She was exhausted and had to be carried off the field many times. This is also an example of someone with a disability but isn’t handicap because she overcame the obstacles that came with it and was still able to be successful. I think it’s so important that people stay positive and realize that no matter what your struggling with, in the end you can make a difference in the world. I love stories like Michelle and Stevie wonder’s because it gives everyone confidence and hope.

    • Mary E. Ulrich says:

      Michelle Akers sounds like a great person, I’ll have to learn more about her. You are right Sally, these stories do give us hope.

  • Brandi Cox says:

    I personally do not like the word “handicapped”, just like I hate describing someone as “disabled” or “wheel-chair bound”. I use people first language. I would not say my brother is autistic, his name is Nic and he HAS autism. He HAS a developmental disability. It does not define him, it’s just apart of who he is as a person, however his disability does not define who he is. I don’t think it is important to classify someone as “handicapped” or “disabled”. They’re individuals with challenges just like everyone else. That’s why it’s important to focus on people’s strengths. For example I would not describe Stevie wonder as “a blind artist”, but a musical genius. I don’t say my “autistic little brother”, I just say Nic.

    • Mary E. Ulrich says:

      There is a big difference between the words “handicapped” and “disability”. You are right Brandi that Nic is Nic and the rest are just descriptors other people need.

  • Sally Beiting says:


    I really liked the quote you added by Robert Schuller when he said, “Look at what you have left, not what you have lost.” I really think it is important to look at the bright side and the positive things that can come out of any situation or circumstance. It makes me think of a national soccer player named Michelle Akers. She was diagnosed with chronic fatigue and immune dysfunction syndrome (CFIDS). This would make her feel so exhausted to the point she had to get carried off the field. However, this was a disability and not a handicap because she continued to play soccer with this and overcome the obstacles she encountered. It’s inspiring to see stories like hers and Stevie Wonder’s because it gives everyone confidence and hope that no matter what you are struggling with, big or small, you can still come out of it with a positive effect on the world and others.

  • Margaret Lehmenkuler says:

    I never really thought about the difference between a disability and a handicap. I thought that it was the same thing until reading this article. Reading the part about the Olympic Swimmer is just amazing to me and I find it very inspirational, the same with Stevie Wonder. People can truly do anything if they set their mind to it.

    • Mary E. Ulrich says:

      Imagine: a flashing light makes all the difference. And both the swimmers with and without hearing can use the light. And you’re right Margaret, it is inspirational.

  • Katee Moon says:

    Now that I’ve been in your class and I’ve read this article, I feel as if I was ignorant about the differences between handicap and disability. I’m glad I have gained an awareness of their differences. I feel bad about previously passing judgment and automatically considering someone with a disability as being handicapped. Now I know that the means of the environment are what cause one to have a handicap. I wish more people would realize the difference.

  • Katie Vitucci says:

    Wonderful article! I had never really thought about whether there was a difference between the two. All my life I have grown up next door to a man who has cerebal palsy as well as many other mental issues. I had always referred to him as mentally handicapped. It never dawned on me that he is not handicapped at all. Everything on my street has been tailored to his needs so that he and his family are able to provide a high quality of care for me. I see the difference now between disabled and handicapped. Jeff may be disabled but he is most definitely not handicapped. He is treated like an ordinary person in my neighborhood but I had never referred to him that way. Very eye opening!

    • Mary E. Ulrich says:

      Wow! What a wonderful example Katie. Please share this will others. I’d love to know some of the modifications and accommodations that he uses. People are so clever about solving their problems and it’s always individual and often just the little things. Maybe next time you go home you could ask Jeff some questions. Most people are very open about talking about themselves. Plus, he will see your new attitude of caring and learning.

  • Jessica Rosselot says:

    Before I started reading this article I asked myself “Do these words mean the same thing?” I answered myself with a simple yes. As I started reading the article, I quickly realized they do not have the same meaning at all. This article definitely got me thinking about how little we think about the real meaning of words that we use. Now that I have read this article, I want to explain to other people the difference between the words “Handicapped” and “Disability”. I really liked this article and the examples that were given were very eye-opening.

    • Mary E. Ulrich says:

      Great Jessica, sounds like you have an advocate hidden in you. Help us spread the message, we need lots of voices and people who care.

  • Thomas Pritchard says:

    This is the first time I have ever even thought about the difference between disabled and handicapped. I think most people just assume they are interchangeable. I though you did a good job of explaining the difference between the two terms. I find it interesting and inspiring that just because someone has a disability, does not necessarily mean they have a handicapped. With a little help, those with disabilities can still be independent and pursue their passions.

    • Mary E. Ulrich says:

      Thanks Thomas. Most people don’t know the difference. I learned it from my son’s physical therapist. Now, I look for people who are using supports, related services and supplemental services to be able to live the life they want to life. Older Americans do it all the time, but it is so common we just don’t even see it. Now, you have a new awareness and I hope it brings you hope for the future of all of us.

  • Nichole Martini says:

    This post made me think on a deeper level of our vocabulary; the way a person thinks can completely alter their lifestyle, sometimes these words are used in the wrong context in our society and I don’t think it’s always realized that it could change a person’s life. The examples are inspiring and show me that there’s always more than one way to look at things. Thanks for the post!

    • Mary E. Ulrich says:

      Hi Nichole,
      I think it was Chomsky who said there is deeper meaning and many layers to our vocabulary and our understanding of what is being said. It is hard to get into the Point of view of another person. Glad this helped.

  • Jade K. Clark says:

    This post really made me realize how a major portion of society is ignorant when it comes to both of these terms. Most people misuse the term handicap. Most of the time I see the term “handicap” is on handicap parking signs, but those people may or may not actually have a handicap. This enlightened me on the true meaning of both.

    • Mary E. Ulrich says:

      Hi Jade,
      The common person probably doesn’t know the difference between “Handicapped” and “Disability”. Now, you will be able to help others understand.

      One of the problems with the “handicapped parking” is that we can’t tell who needs it and who doesn’t. That is why a Medical Doctor has to write a prescription in order to get one. For instance, since my surgery I’ve been using a handicapped parking pass. Even though I am now able to walk better, the reason I still need the sticker is because regular parking places are so narrow I can’t open the door wide enough to swing my legs out. I know some people abuse the stickers, but I try to give people the benefit of the doubt–even if their disability isn’t obvious like a heart condition or someone on chemotherapy… Someday we will use “universal design” and then everyone will have wider parking spots, we’ll talk more about this later.

  • Hannah Marshall says:

    I really like the way you defined the differences between “disabled” and “handicapped” because I think the same way. My little brother has a physical and mental disability… which sometimes causes a handicap, but not always because he uses a power wheelchair which helps him to get around. I agree with this blog on a personal level.

    • Mary E. Ulrich says:

      I’m sure you have some great stories too Hannah. Separating “disabled” and “handicapped” gives us hope and something to do. Feel free to share as much or as little as you wish.

  • Up until this article, I always thought that having a handicap and having a disability were the same thing. Now, though, it makes complete sense that they are very different things. The examples with Stevie Wonder and the deaf Olympic swimmer gave a very clear explanation of the difference between having a disability and having a handicap. Very interesting article!

    • Mary E. Ulrich says:

      Hi Hannah,

      The concept is simple–yet complex. Yet it makes all the difference and gives us a vision of what to do and when to do it. Glad you liked the article.

  • I never realized the difference between the two different terms. Looking at it from a different perspective, it has really changed my view and reading the various articles on here has made me aware of the handicapped world and the way they view different things. I also LOVE that quote by Robert Schuller!

    • Mary E. Ulrich says:

      I actually learned of the difference from my son’s therapists. So many times there is not much we can do about the “disability” –it is there.
      But, as professionals, parents and friends we can do our best so the person is NOT “handicapped.” Glad you could see the difference, it gives us all hope–and a job to do.
      Thanks for your comment Jessica.

  • Shannon says:

    I never thought of a disability being a socially constructed idea. You have opened my eyes to looking at disabilities in a whole new way!

    • Mary E. Ulrich says:

      You are right Shannon. It is an amazing paradigm shift. Now that you are aware, you will see evidence of it everywhere. Thanks for the comment.

  • Kelsey says:

    I really loved the quote you used from Schuller! It does not only apply to those who have “disabilities” but everyone! I do believe that people should not get stuck on something you cannot “fix” when assisting someone, but more working with a situation and creating an environment that encourages and works for everyone!

    • Mary E. Ulrich says:

      Thanks for your comment Kelsey. Dr. Schuller meant the quote for everyone, he might even be surprised with the way I used it. He was really important in our life because his show was on TV and while we couldn’t go to regular church services (we got kicked out and Aaron really didn’t like it) we could watch the TV. And you’re right, we really do need to focus on what we can do.

  • Hi! I just love the images you put in here. They fit so well with what you’re trying to say. I’m sure you’ll reach so many people with what you’ve got to say. Good luck!

  • gold price says:

    This is our call to action: We can each think about what we can add, subtract or change to the environment to give a person with a disability the support they need so they will never have to be handicapped.
    gold price recently posted..No last blog posts to return.

  • Annie says:

    Check out what Aimee Mullins says – TED talk on “adversity”

  • Great post, Mary! I have often wondered about this. In the UK we switched from using the word ‘handicapped’ to ‘disabled’ years ago, so it confused me when I moved to the US to still find ‘handicapped’ used and often wondered about the definition. You laid your explanation out clearly and calmly and now I know that I am disabled (wear glasses for reading) but not handicapped. Perfect! Now, should the commonly-used term change?
    Alison Golden recently posted..5 Inspiring and Unconventional Personal Development Blogs You Should Read

  • Jeanie says: has a wonderful Layman’s definition to explain the difference as well. “A disability is an inability to execute some class of movements, or pick up sensory information of some sort, or perform some cognitive function, that typical unimpaired humans are able to execute or pick up or perform. A disability may be physical, cognitive, mental, sensory, emotional, developmental or some combination of these.

    A handicap is an inability to accomplish something one might want to do, that most others around one are able to accomplish.

    It’s possible that a disability is the cause of a handicap. For example, if a person a disability that prevents a person from being able to move their legs would result in a handicap in driving. Disabled people do not have to be handicapped, especially if they can find a way around their disability. For example, Braille for the visually impaired or wheel chairs for those who cannot walk. ”

    My grandmother is confined to a wheelchair after surgery several years ago to remove a tumor from her spine… they got too close to her cord. After almost a year of nursing homes, she was able to return home BY HERSELF. WE had remodeled her bathroom to make it wheelchair accessible and a ramp in front of her home. Besides needing someone to drive her to where she wants to go, she is not handicapped. She makes her life fulfilling.

    Many people with disabilities don’t even know they are “disabled” unless someone tells them and points it out. They often times have more abilities than the “majority” of others.

    • Mary E. Ulrich says:

      Thanks Jeanie, your passion comes through.

      It’s great your grandmother got the modifications and accommodations she needed so she would no longer be “handicapped” and could live back in her own home. I’ll bet your loving family all worked with her to make this happen and I’ll bet it has given her a better quality of life than being in a nursing home.

      We have learned so much and there are such great technological advances. I agree with you that it is just a matter of attitude and finding what works for the individual person. The future really is brighter for each of us. We can have a more inclusive life, but sometimes it takes planning and loving family and friends.

  • Ana says:

    Good post Mary!!!
    I love this great quote from Stevie Wonder: “Just because a man lacks the use of his eyes doesn’t mean he lacks vision.”

    • Mary E. Ulrich says:

      Thanks Ana,
      That is a great quote. Stevie Wonder really is a Wonder.
      Kind of reminds me of a quote they use in the FC Institute: “Just because a person can’t talk doesn’t mean they have nothing to say.”

      We can learn so much if we just look and listen. Thanks for adding your voice to this community. 🙂

  • Siyang Zhang says:

    Hi Marry,
    I just want to make a general comment about your blog. Your blog is really a good place to let people know more about people with disabilities and their families. You are very optimistic and devote yourself in this world and your action can actually influence others. You let me know more about the daily life about people with disabilities and their families, you let me get concerned about this group and be encouraged by your strong spirits.
    I will always support you Marry! Go, Go, Go!

    • Mary E. Ulrich says:

      HI Siyang,

      You will never know how much I appreciate your kind words. I get so discouraged that few people comment or even read my blog. It is a real boost that you see the essence of what I am trying to do: talk about real people and real issues and give hope. Thanks.

  • Tamara says:

    I read something a long time ago that didn’t use the terminology “handicapped” versus “disabled”, but made a similar point. Let’s say you’re a person who uses a wheelchair. You live in an apartment in the city. The apartment building has elevators; the city has curb cuts; you have access to a bus with a lift; the grocer, your workplace, the hair salon, the restaurant are all accessible. You are probably able to do whatever you want to do. Then take the same person, put them in a house in a rural area with stairs, no transportation, etc. Their abilities change dramatically.

    • Mary E. Ulrich says:

      Exactly! You got it.

      The positive part is that while me might not be able to cure the MS, or Polio, or CP or ….
      We can add ramps and make buildings accessible.

  • Geeze, I never knew…

  • Very interesting entry, I look forward to the next! Thx for share

  • I like the way you think. I had never considered that.

  • I cannot WAIT to read more of this. I mean, you just know so much about this. So much of it Ive never even thought of. You sure did put a new twist on something that Ive heard so much about. I dont believe Ive actually read anything that does this subject as good justice as you just did.

  • Great article! We were considering writing something very similar, would you mind if we incorporated some of your thoughts into our article if we link back to you? By the way, keep up the excellent work. 🙂

  • I’ve considered many blogs and I can for sure tell that this one is my favorite .

    • Mary E. Ulrich says:

      Glad you liked this Domenica. I’ve been learning about disabilities for over 30 years. Hope you’ll stop by again.

  • Illa Avella says:

    This is the most comprehensive and well written material I have come across on this subject, You are provided an incredibly important service writingthese types of articles.

    • Mary E. Ulrich says:

      Aaron’s physical therapist said this concept originated with therapist. I couldn’t find an citation, but that makes sense.

  • I think this is very important. Thanks a lot.

  • Great blog! I definitely love how it’s easy on my eyes and also the data are well written. I am wondering how I could be notified whenever a new post has been made. I have subscribed to your rss feed which really should do the trick! Have a nice day!

    • Mary says:

      Thank you so much. Just got the “subscription” app. today. It’s in the top left corner. You are great for my confidence and I think the first subscriber. HOOT! HOOT!

      I’ve also added some social media buttons, so you can tweet the articles, pass on to Facebook, your friends…. Thanks so much.

  • Farouk says:

    that’s inspiring, some people are handicapped even though they don’t have any disabilities, its all because of limiting beliefs

  • Gary Jordon says:

    Hi Mary I really like this. If only someone would have spread this simple truth around when I was growing up.

    I’ll add a little twist I read a long time ago. I can’t for the life of me remember who or in what book I read it in. So here it goes. A disease(read impairment) has two components. 1. the actual disease itself. 2.the meaning that the disease is given.

    Have a great day.

    • Mary says:

      You are right, there is the actual disability and then there is all the stuff associated with the disability.

    • Ian Watts says:

      Hey Gary Jordon I agree completely with your comment I feel like socially people can make diseases mean more or less than they actually do. have

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