The definition of disability has changed since Easterseals was founded in 1919. In fact, the definition of disability isn’t quite the same as it was even five years ago.

As the meaning of disability evolves as society changes, we’re working alongside the disability community to advance full equity, inclusion and access for people with disabilities. We realize disability is not a limitation, but rather a normal part of life; one may be born with disabilities, or they may develop later in life. We see disability as just one part of a person’s identity.

What is the definition of disability?

Disability can be defined in a number of ways, but it is often defined as any visible, invisible, emotional, social and educational differences that are a part of normal, everyday life. Disability can refer to a medical diagnosis, a barrier and/or a person’s identity.

About 1 in 4 Americans are living with a disability today (according to the CDC). It’s likely that all of us know someone who has a disability – or will develop a disability – at some point in life, including ourselves. Whether it’s a child who is on the autism spectrum or a grandparent that is hard of hearing, disability touches us all.

What is ableism?

Ableism is discrimination against people with disabilities.

How should I refer to someone who has a disability?

Simply put, it’s up to the individual. Some people prefer person-first language, which puts the person before the disability (e.g., a person who is blind), while others prefer identity-first language (e.g., a disabled person), as they feel their disability is an integral part of who they are. Bottom line: Always be respectful and never use words that are hurtful, offensive, or derogatory.