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Singapore Government

Glossary: Commonly-Used Disability Terms

Glossary: Commonly-Used Disability Terms

Term Definition
Access Suitability of a building or other structure for use by people with disabilities. In a broader sense, access also includes making forms and information accessible to people with visual or cognitive disabilities; making alarms and signals accessible to people who are deaf or hard of hearing; and making services such as education and transport accessible to people with disabilities.
Activity limitations Difficulties in executing activities such as walking or eating.

Examples from Activities of Daily Living: In the context of rehabilitation and independent living by people with disabilities, these include dressing, making the bed, showering, shaving, combing hair, eating, making drinks and all other activities which will assist in enabling a person with a disability to function to the maximum of his or her capacity within the family and the community.
Access audit A detailed examination of a building or other structure, generally by independent experts, to ascertain its suitability for use by persons with disabilities.
Accessibility The provision of flexibility to accommodate each user’s needs and preferences. Any place, space, item or service, whether physical or virtual, that is easily approached, reached, entered, exited, interacted with, understood or otherwise used by persons of varying disabilities, is determined to be accessible. Adjective: Accessible

  • Accessible route: A continuous unobstructed path connecting all accessible parts of a building or facility. Interior accessible routes may include corridors, floors, ramps, elevators, lifts, and clear floor space at fixtures. Exterior accessible routes may include parking access aisles, curb ramps, crosswalks at vehicular ways, walks, ramps and lifts (DPA, 2015).
  • Accessible web design: Creating web pages according to universal design principles to eliminate or reduce barriers, including those that affect people with disabilities. Ideally, all websites should conform to Level AAA of the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.0 (DPA, 2015).
Adaptability The ability of certain building spaces and elements, such as kitchen counters, sinks and grab bars, to be added or altered so as to accommodate the needs of persons with different types or degrees of disability (DPA, 2015).

Examples of adaptive technology: Any object or system that is specifically designed for the purpose of increasing or maintaining the capabilities of people with disabilities. This often refers specifically to electronic and information technology access.
ALT attribute Provides an alternate text for a computer user, if they cannot view an image (for example because of a slow connection or because they use a screen reader or are visually impaired. Here is an image for which the alt attribute is “In the sky flies a red flag with a white cross whose vertical bar is shifted toward the flagpole”.

In the sky flies a red flag with a white cross whose vertical bar is shifted toward the flagpole
An alternative alt attribute value would be "The Danish flag". A visually impaired reader using a screen reader will hear the alt text in place of the image (DPA, 2015).
Assistive devices/ Assistive technology Assistive devices and technologies are those whose primary purpose is to maintain or improve an individual’s functioning and independence to facilitate participation and to enhance overall well-being. They can also help prevent impairments and secondary health conditions. Examples of assistive devices and technologies include wheelchairs, prostheses, hearing aids, visual aids, and specialised computer software and hardware that increase mobility, hearing, vision, or communication capacities (WHO).
Augmentative communication The supplementation or replacement of speech through the use of aided or unaided techniques. Sign language, gestures, and fingerspelling are examples of unaided communication, whereas aided communication is associated with technology. An example of aided communication would be a computer-based system that supports verbal and written communication (DPA, 2015).
Barrier Anything that gets in the way of persons with disabilities participating in daily activities, or having equal access to opportunities that are available to the public (National Council of Social Services, 2015).

  • Physical barriers: Found in buildings and spaces
  • Attitudinal barriers: When people have incorrect understanding and mindsets about disability
  • Information and communication barriers: Prevents persons with disabilities from getting information
  • Systemic barriers: Policies and practices that discriminate against persons with disabilities
Braille System of raised dots which enables persons with visual impairment to read with their fingers. It is available in different languages, where each dot pattern or combination(s) of them is unique in the varied written form (Singapore Association of the Visually Handicapped).
Caregiver or carer A person, generally a relative, friend or a professional, who takes care of a person with special needs.
Clear floor space The minimum unobstructed floor or ground space required to accommodate a single, stationary wheelchair and occupant (DPA, 2015).
Cochlear implant Medical device implanted within the ear to enhance hearing.
Communication Includes languages, display of text, Braille, tactile communication, large print, accessible multimedia as well as written, audio, plain-language, human-reader and augmentative and alternative modes, means and formats of communication, including accessible information and communication technology (Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities). Communication aids for the deaf and hard of hearing: Sign language interpreter, Communication and Real-Time Translation (CART), Stenography
Detectable warning A standardised surface feature built in or applied to walking surfaces or other elements to warn people with low (or no) vision of hazards on a circulation path (DPA, 2015).
Disability Confident A scheme in the United Kingdom encouraging employers to be committed to supporting persons with disabilities, whether it is in their employment policies or the design of their products and services, among other processes in the organisation. UK registered companies operating in Singapore may also describe themselves as “Disability Confident” (Official Disability Confident website).
Disability Culture Describes the group identity and common history of discrimination shared by people with disabilities which have generated art, music, literature and other expressions of their lives and experience of disability (DPA, 2015). “Culture” may be used by specific disability communities, e.g. “Deaf Culture”.

Deaf Community: The Deaf community commonly refers to individuals (both deaf and hearing) who embrace and adopt Deaf culture and sign language as part of their self-identity.

Deaf Culture: This refers to a way of life and common practices and sense of self-identity that Deaf people share in areas which are linked by their deafness. These include social beliefs, behavioural rules, values (e.g. self-acceptance and that deafness is a personal trait), literary and/or artistic traditions, history and institutions (Singapore Association of the Deaf (SADeaf)).
Disability etiquette Recommendations regarding the interaction of non-disabled people with people with disabilities, both in terms of physical contact and the use of language/terminology (DPA, 2015).
Disability Access Symbols Intended to advertise access services to customers, audiences, staff, etc. Advertisements, newsletters, conference and programme brochures, membership forms, building signage, floor plans and maps are examples of material that might display these symbols (DPA, 2015).

Access for individuals who are blind or have low vision: This symbol may be used to indicate access for people who are blind or have low vision, including: a guided tour, a path to a nature trail or a scent garden in a park; and a tactile tour or a museum exhibition that may be touched.

Symbol for accessibility: The wheelchair symbol is commonly used to indicate accessibility for individuals with limited mobility including wheelchair users. For example, the symbol is used to indicate an accessible entrance, bathroom or that a phone is lowered for wheelchair users.
Audio description: A service for persons who are blind or have low vision that makes the performing arts, visual arts, television, video and film more accessible. Description of visual elements is provided by a trained Audio Describer through the Secondary Audio Programme (SAP) of televisions and monitors equipped with stereo sound.
Telephone typewriter (TTY): This device is also known as a text telephone (TT), or telecommunications device for the deaf (TDD). TTY indicates a device used with the telephone for communication with and between deaf, hard of hearing, speech impaired and/or hearing persons.
Volume control telephone: This symbol indicates the location of telephones that have handsets with amplified sound and/or adjustable volume controls.
Assistive listening systems: These systems transmit amplified sound via hearing aids, headsets or other devices. They include infrared, loop and FM systems. Portable systems may be available from the same audio-visual equipment suppliers that service conferences and meetings.
Sign language interpretation: The symbol indicates that Sign Language Interpretation is provided for a lecture, tour, film, performance, conference or other programme.
Accessible print (18 pt. or larger): The symbol for large print is “Large Print” printed in 18 pt. or larger text. In addition to indicating that large print versions of books, pamphlets, museum, guides and theatre programmes are available, you may use the symbol on conference or membership forms to indicate that print materials may be provided in large print. Sans serif or modified serif print with good contrast is important, and special attention should be paid to letter and word spacing.
Closed captioning (cc): This symbol indicates a choice for whether or not to display captions for a television programme or videotape. TV sets that have a built-in or a separate decoder are equipped to display dialogue for programmes that are captioned when selected by the viewer. Also, videos that are part of exhibitions may be closed captioned using the symbol with instructions to press a button for captioning.
Opened captioning (oc): This symbol indicates that captions, which translates dialogue and other sounds in print, are always displayed on the videotape, movie or television programme. Open captioning is preferred by many including deaf and hard-of-hearing individuals, and people whose second language is English. In addition, it is helpful in teaching children how to read and in keeping sound levels to a minimum in museums and restaurants.
Braille symbol: This symbol indicates that printed material is available in Braille, including exhibition labelling, publications and signage.
Ramps: Ramps are essential for wheelchair users if elevators or lifts are not available to connect different levels. However, some people who use walking aids have difficulty with ramps and prefer stairs. Although ramp slopes between 1:16 and 1:20 are preferred, the rule of thumb for constructing a ramp is 12 inches of length for every inch of rise. The ability to manage an incline is related to both its slope and its length. Wheelchair users with disabilities affecting their arms or with low stamina have serious difficulty using inclines. Many ambulatory people and most people who use wheelchairs can manage a slope of 1:16.
Discrimination Refers to any distinction, exclusion or restriction on the basis of disability which has the purpose or effect of impairing or nullifying the recognition, enjoyment or exercise, on an equal basis with others, of all human rights and fundamental freedoms in the political, economic, social, cultural, civil or any other field. It includes all forms of discrimination, including denial of reasonable accommodation (CRPD).
Early detection Discovery or diagnosis of a disability in the womb, shortly after birth or through screening in school.
Easy read A method of presenting written information to make it easier to understand for people with difficulty reading. Easy read sentences are typically short and convey one idea per sentence. Active sentences are preferred over passive sentences.
Educational Psychologist (EP) An EP provides detailed assessments for students with special educational needs. The assessments include recommendations for differentiating school work to meet the student’s needs. An EP may also provide ongoing support in the form of one-to-one or group work with students or consultations with teaching staff and parents (DPA, 2015).
Empowerment Process by which individuals or groups of people gain the ability to make decisions and gain control over their lives, thereby transforming feelings of powerlessness, helplessness and hopelessness into positive feelings of mastery, control and hope (DPA, 2003).
Enabling Masterplans (EMPs) Five-year roadmaps for the government and the community to work together to support persons with disabilities.
Environmental factors The physical, social and attitudinal environment in which people live and conduct their lives. These are either barriers to or facilitators of the person’s functioning (WHO ICF, 2013).
Environmental barrier Environmental barriers often limit or prevent a person with a disability from fully participating in social, occupational and recreational activities. For a wheelchair-user, environmental barriers may include stairs, narrow doorways, heavy doors, or high counter tops (Preedy & Watson, 2010).
Equalisation The process whereby people with disabilities take their rightful place in society alongside non-disabled people, brought about through many means, including legislation, promotion of barrier-free environments, community-based rehabilitation services, education and training and employment. (DPA, 2015)
Equalisation of opportunities The process through which the general system of society, such as the physical and cultural environment, housing and transportation, social and health services, educational and work opportunities, cultural and social life, including sports and recreational facilities, are made accessible to all. (UNDESA)
Functioning An umbrella term for body functions, body structures, activities and participation. It denotes the positive aspects of the interaction between an individual (with a health condition) and that individual’s contextual factors (environmental and personal factors) (WHO ICF, 2013).
Guide dog/Service animal A service animal is any animal trained to provide assistance or perform tasks for the benefit of a person with a physical or mental disability (DPA, 2015). Guide dogs are the best-known examples of service animal or companion dog. A guide dog serves as a mobility aid for persons with visual impairment (“handlers”) and is trained to guide their handlers in avoiding ground obstacles, crossing the road, finding objects within sight, etc (Guide Dog Singapore).
Impairment Problems in body function and structure such as significant deviation or loss (WHO, 2013).
Inclusive education Inclusive education means that all children – no matter who they are – can learn together in the same school. This entails reaching out to all learners and removing all barriers that could limit participation and achievement. Disability is one of the main causes of exclusion; however, there are also other social, institutional, physical, and attitudinal barriers to inclusive education (UNESCO).
Independent Living This concept involves the belief that people with disabilities should have the same choice, control and freedom over their lives as other people in society.
This means:
  • Greater choice and control over any assistance needed to go about everyday life
  • Access to housing, transport, health, social care, education, employment and other services and opportunities
  • Participation in family, community and civic life (DPA, 2015)
Intervention Intervention refers to services like rehabilitation or therapy, which target developmental areas such as motor skills, cognitive skills, psychosocial skills, and speech and language to help persons with disabilities regain or improve certain functions. Common forms of rehabilitation include physiotherapy, occupational therapy and speech therapy.

Early Intervention involves working on the child’s developmental, health and support needs as early as possible upon detection of his needs. The specialised support is usually offered from a child’s infancy to the time he/she enters school (Enabling Guide).
Integration The inclusion, participation and acceptance of people with disabilities in society at large (DPA, 2015).
Lip-reading / Visual hearing / Speech reading A technique of understanding speech by visually interpreting the movements of the lips, face and tongue. It depends also on non-verbal information provided by the context, knowledge of the language and amount of residual hearing (SADeaf).
Mainstreaming disability Describes a strategy for making the concerns and experiences of people with disabilities an integral part of the design, implementation, monitoring and evaluation of policies and programmes. The goal is to achieve disability equality in all political, economic and societal areas so that people with disabilities benefit equally. This requires that all measures, programmes, services and practices are assessed to determine their impact on the participation of people with disabilities, instead of simply assuming their neutrality (DPA, 2015).
Mobility aid A device designed to assist walking or otherwise improve the mobility of people with a mobility disability. Examples are crutches, walking frames, wheelchairs and mobility scooters. For people who are blind or visually impaired, the white cane and guide dog have a long history of use. Other aids can help with mobility or transfer within a building or where there are changes of level (DPA, 2015).
Occupational therapy Aims to develop and maintain a person’s ability to perform day-to-day tasks and roles essential to productive living. Occupational therapists will work with a person to design a treatment programme with carefully designed activities. This could include modifications to a person’s home or office environment (Enabling Guide).
Paralympic Games Olympic-style games for athletes with a disability (IOC).
Participation Involvement in a life situation (WHO ICF, 2013), such as in society at large, in arts and culture, in the economy, in an event, etc.
Person with disability Those with substantially reduced prospects of securing, retaining places and advancing in education and training, employment and recreation, due to physical, intellectual, and sensory impairments, as well as developmental needs including Autism Spectrum Disorder.
Positive discrimination or reverse discrimination (In the context of the allocation of resources or employment) The practice or policy of favouring individuals belonging to groups which experience discrimination (DPA, 2015).
Prosthesis An artificial substitute or replacement of a part of the body such as a tooth, eye, a facial bone, the palate, a hip, a knee or another joint, the leg, an arm, etc. A prosthesis is designed for functional or cosmetic reasons or both. (DPA, 2015)
Social Service Agencies (SSAs) A non-profit organisation that provides welfare services and/or services that benefit the community at large. SSAs are typically set up as societies, companies limited by guarantee or trusts.
Special Education (SPED) schools Special Education (SPED) schools provide education for children and youth with disabilities who are of school-going age. SPED schools are managed by Social Service Agencies (SSAs) that receive funding from the Ministry of Education.
Special Education Needs (SEN) SEN refers to children with learning problems or disabilities that make it harder for them to learn than most children the same age.
Quadriplegia or tetraplegia Partial or total paralysis of all four limbs and torso.

In contrast to paraplegia: Paralysis of legs and parts of the torso.
Reasonable accommodation Refers to necessary and appropriate modification and adjustments not imposing a disproportionate or undue burden, where needed in a particular case, to ensure to persons with disabilities the enjoyment or exercise on an equal basis with others of all human rights and fundamental freedoms (CRPD).
Rehabilitation Planned process with defined goals, timeframes and means in which professions and/or services co-operate in assisting the efforts of a person to achieve best possible functioning and coping capabilities, thereby promoting independence and participation in society (DPA, 2015).
Respite care Respite care allows caregivers to take some time away from caregiving with the provision of an alternative care service. Common types of respite care include professional home-care services, or community-based facilities which provide respite during the day, such as a day activity centre and drop-in disability services. Disability homes offer short-term live-in respite care. Other activity-based respite programmes enhance the social integration of persons with disabilities while allowing caregivers some rest time (Enabling Guide).
Sign language/Signing, Visual/Tactile signing Sign language is a visual-manual mode of communication that has its own grammar and linguistic structure which is different from those of spoken languages. It is not a visual representation of spoken language and does not relate grammatically to any spoken language. It also does not refer to miming or gestures alone, though it does incorporate these.

Sign Language is not a universal language. Singapore sign language (SgSL) is Singapore’s native sign language that developed over the last six decades since the setting up of the first school for the Deaf in 1954. It is influenced by Shanghainese sign language, American Sign Language, Signing Exact English and locally developed signs (SADeaf).

Visual signing: Expressed through the hands and face and is perceived through the eyes (HKNC, 2020).

Tactile signing: A method of receiving sign language and/or fingerspelling by placing one’s hands over a communication partner’s hands to feel their shape and movement. Some individuals who are deaf-blind prefer a two-handed approach while others are quite competent at receiving information via a one-handed approach (HKNC, 2020).
Universal Design The design of products, environments, programmes and services to be usable by all people, to the greatest extent possible, without the need for adaptation or specialised design. “Universal Design” shall not exclude assistive devices for particular groups of persons with disabilities where this is needed (CRPD).

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