What does 'disabled' mean?

Let’s begin this investigation by considering what people really mean by 'disabled'. In your notebook, write a brief explanation (one or two sentences should do) of what you think the word means.

Did you write that disabled meant any of the following things?

  • having an illness
  • missing, or not being able to use, a part of your body
  • having difficulty learning
  • having difficulty with your thoughts.

Many people would use these definitions. Let's look at some other ideas.

1.Go to

This site has been set up to inform people about the next Paralympic World Cup to be held in 2012. Go to 'About PT PWC' in the top menu and select 'Photo Gallery'. Take a look at the images here. Then go to 'Fun zone' and select 'Athlete Biog' , and read about Oscar Pistorius.

2.Now, go to Information Sheet 1, and read some other definitions of disability.

Has this information changed the way you were thinking about the meaning of disabled? How do you think disabled people see themselves? Post a question, thought, feeling or photograph on the 'graffiti' board that your teacher has set up, and read what others have posted. You might also want to write a new definition in your notebook, below the first one. Include your own definition of disabled on the board.

People with a disability, however they may see themselves, can find that they are being deprived of their human rights. To find out what that means and how it affects their lives, we will need to do some investigating.

What is meant by basic human rights?

Begin your investigation by becoming familiar with what we mean by human rights and why they are so important.

Activity One

Go to, and then to 'Global Issues', 'Global issues expanded' then 'Human Rights'. Read the Introduction section 'What are human rights?

Next, read through the list of human rights, and parts of the Declaration on the Rights of Disabled Persons (on Information Sheet 2). You might also like to consider the full wording of the first human right which is 'All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.

Choose one human right that you would like to think more about. Record your thoughts on a web map. (You can download one from ).

  1. In the central rectangle, write the number of the right and a short version of it (for example, 2: Everyone is entitled to all rights and freedoms).
  2. In the rounded rectangles, fill in some more details (for example, people with various religious beliefs).
  3.  Now you need to think about why it is important that everyone should have this right. In the circles, jot down some ideas on what would happen if the right did not exist (for example, some people might not be allowed to visit Australia).

Activity Two

Look back at Information Sheet 2. Think about the kinds of things that happen in the place where you live. Think about other places in Australia and various groups of people, such as immigrants, Indigenous people, or people with very little money. Talk to a partner, or an adult if you can, about human rights in Australia. Then put a rating against each of the human rights according to how well you think it works here. Choose one of the following:

  • A – everyone has this right all the time
  • B – most people have this right most of the time
  • C – some people have this right most of the time
  • D – there are people who do not have this right most of the time.

(You could also work out your own set of ratings, but add explanations for others to follow when they read them.)