Why do we use the term “Persons with Disabilities”?

The 1975 UN Declaration on the Rights of Disabled Persons (the Declaration) defined a “disabled person” as anyone “unable to ensure by himself or herself, wholly or partly, the necessities of a normal individual and/or social life, as a result of deficiency, either congenital or not, in his or her physical or mental capabilities.”1 This definition stresses the inabilities of persons with disabilities and their dependence on assistance. Since the Declaration was adopted, attitudes towards disability have shifted. For instance, the term “disabled person” has been largely replaced in common use by “persons with disabilities,” since the latter places emphasis on the person rather than on the disability.

Although the CRPD uses the term “persons with disabilities,” it is not included in the definitions section. The absence of a formal definition reflects the fact that there are different conceptualizations of disability, and recognizes, as noted in the preamble, that “disability” is an “evolving concept.”2 To provide some guidance, however, the Convention states in its “Purpose” section that the term “persons with disabilities” includes “those 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” (Article 1). This wording recognizes the diverse types of disabilities, or “impairments,” that a person may have. Perhaps most importantly, it emphasizes that a person with a disability is only limited in their ability to participate in society as a result of their interaction with barriers that society permits to exist, which may be physical obstacles, policies, legislation, or discriminatory behavior and prejudicial attitudes.3 The Convention requires states parties to identify and eliminate these obstacles and barriers.4

This language is also reflective of the rights‑based approach, which views persons with disabilities as rights holders and active members of society. 

The Supreme Court of Pakistan has also given clear  direction  to “ensure that the word “disabled” is not used and instead Persons with Disabilities or persons with different abilities is put to use.” (cp_2045_2019).