Defining and standardizing disability terms


Karamo Kebba Keita

Disability inclusion practitioner

As I wish everyone Eid Mubarak. Let me take this opportunity to express some concerns and contribute towards promoting an all-inclusive society at all levels. I will start by defining some terms in disability inclusion which can also be a yardstick to promote disability inclusion at all levels of society.


My hopes were high when we had a representative for Persons with Disabilities (PWDs) in the last National Assembly and the coming into being of the National Disability Act 2021. (Thanks to the government of the new Republic for the initiative). However, the trend changed recently but will it likely continue? Will there be any whistle-blower for disability inclusion matters in the new assembly? I wonder how much disability inclusion will be discussed and addressed without one. Can it also be a lost opportunity to move the disability agenda forward?

Coming back to the issues of defining terms, there is always the tendency of interchanging words and definitions. Until few days ago, in a TV news cast, I heard the word differently abled being used, assuming that was replacing Persons with Disabilities (PWDs) according to the said story that was being covered as one of many examples.

My point of reference for disability terms and definition is drawn from the World Health Organization (WHO’s) and other United Nation’s blueprints. These are also my inspirations for their decades of research works to agree on key terms and definitions considered as international that are widely used by many professionals today in their daily engagements. If I believe in professionalisms, I must also believe in professionals and act professionally to guide my actions.

I therefore, kindly request all and sundry to desist from using words like; differently able, differently challenged and handicap to replace Persons with Disabilities. I am aware of the fact that some pressure groups both local and international prefer using the later in their quest to advocate for equality and that we all have some forms of limitations thus; the use of the words and terms. However, this should not warrant us abandon the agreed international terms used for PWDs.

Until a global consensus is reached to amend the term Persons with Disabilities, we must stick to the internationally agreed and defined terms of the World Health body (WHO). The relevance to use the term PWDs is to ensure that we maintain international standards of bodies we belong and committed to including:

The Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and its Optional Protocol Adopted by the United Nations General Assembly on 13 December 2006 builds upon, and works in synergy with previous international texts related to Persons with Disabilities including the World Programme of Action on Disabled Persons – 1982 and the Standard Rules on the Equalization of Opportunities for Persons with Disabilities – 1994 (Both not a legally binding treaty).

Article 1 of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities states: ‘Persons with disabilities include 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’.

The 1997 Constitution of the Republic of The Gambia states; Rights of the Disabled 31. The right of the disabled and handicapped to respect and human dignity shall be recognised by the State and society.

(2) Disabled persons shall be entitled to protection against exploitation and to protection against discrimination, in particular as regards access to health services, education and employment.

(3) In any judicial proceedings in which a Disabled Person is a party, the procedure shall take his or her condition into account.

The Gambia Disability Act of 2021 has:

Part 1 – Preliminary

1. Short title and commencement

This Act may be cited as the persons with disabilities Act, 2021.

“Organization of Persons with Disabilities” means an association or a society formed by persons with disabilities registered under the relevant laws in order to promote and protect the rights, wellbeing and dignity of persons with disabilities;

“Organization for Persons with Disabilities” means an association or a society formed by non-disabled individuals interested in the field of disability registered under the relevant laws in order to promote and protect the rights, wellbeing and dignity of persons with disabilities;

“Person with a disability” means a person with a physical, intellectual sensory or mental impairment and whose functional capacity is limited by encountering attitudinal, environmental and institutional barriers;

These related provisions, in the above documents, are enough to guide my advocacy drive to immediately change thoughts and usage of the term Persons with Disabilities without any reservations, I will never relent in my efforts to change perceptions while dedicating self to have a society fit for all.