Disability Awareness On The International Day Of Persons With Disabilities

Medically reviewed by Kimberly L Brownridge , LPC, NCC, BCPC
Updated July 4, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), 1.3 billion people worldwide (16% of the population) identify as a person living with a disability. Because so many people experience disabilities, the United Nations (UN) is one of many civil society organizations that promotes the annual observance of International Day of Persons With Disabilities on December 3 each year. The UN General Assembly reinforces that disability issues are a key part of human rights and wellness as well as of sustainable development, peace, and safety, which is outlined in their disability inclusion strategy.

UNICEF expands on this belief by stating that disability rights and disability inclusion are essential for mental health. The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 defines a disability as a “mental or physical impairment that substantially limits one or more life activities”. A disability can refer to a mental health condition, physical illness, terminal health condition, physical ability difference, and many others. Disability is often a personal experience, and many groups of disability activists work to promote awareness of what being disabled means to them and to destigmatize disabilities in general. 

One key goal of the International Day of Persons With Disabilities is spreading awareness of the facts surrounding current disability-related issues and laws. The idea is to mobilize support and increase political will related to disability. Ideally, people who gain awareness may then be empowered to find innovative solutions for a more accessible and equitable world for those with disabilities.

Discuss disability and mental health with a professional

Celebrating the International Day of Persons with Disabilities 

The International Day of Persons with Disabilities is a time to celebrate and honor the contributions and rights of persons with disabilities in the world. This holiday was established by the United Nations General Assembly and it emphasizes the importance of inclusion and equality in achieving sustainable development. 

The celebration aligns with the United Nations' Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), highlighting the need for accessible and inclusive progress for all. By focusing on these development goals, we can create a more equitable world that supports the well-being and potential of every individual.

Key areas of disability awareness 

Increasing awareness of disabilities can reduce stigma and amplify the voices of those affected by stereotypes or a lack of laws that may harm or cause them difficulties in everyday life. The International Day of Persons With Disabilities aims to raise awareness about current challenges in order to promote sustainable and transformative progress. Here are a few different areas in which disabled people often face systemic challenges. 


Over 25.5 million Americans have a travel-limiting disability, meaning that they may face barriers to acquiring or may not be able to get public transportation or personal transportation methods. Additionally, many cities have buildings and systems that do not accommodate the needs of some disabled individuals, such as those using wheelchairs. Historic universities, subway systems, and brick buildings, for example, may neglect to add an elevator, wheelchair lift, proper spacing between train cars and the pavement, or smooth pavement, causing accessibility issues for many. 

Public policy and planning can also pose humanitarian challenges regarding disability. For example, many cities have steep hills, sidewalks without exit points for wheelchairs, and obstructions over tactile pavement for vision-impaired individuals. They may also fail to clear snow, rocks, or debris from roads during certain seasons or weather events. These aspects and more can impact those with a mobility device, mobility difficulty, vision or hearing impairments, and other disabilities. 

Disability awareness efforts can promote a greater understanding of this topic in hopes of leading to transformative solutions. The aim is to encourage those in charge to implement meaningful changes to support independent living in people with disabilities. People interested in supporting these movements might consider getting to know the Americans With Disabilities Act to understand how these changes may be legally enacted, and/or write to local officials about positive changes that disability rights advocates need to see made in their communities. 

Work, income, and housing rights 

In the US in 2021, people with disabilities made an average of $3.34 an hour in public and personal sector businesses. The US has not amended the law that allows this to happen since 1938, meaning that people with disabilities often do not have fair working rights. As these wages are generally not livable, people experiencing a disability may be forced to rely on family and/or government institutions for housing and income support, which are not available for everyone. 

For example, many young disabled adults may not have family or other social support systems, and applying for social security disability insurance (SSDI) benefits may be out of reach for those with certain conditions or who face medical discrimination. One study shows that over 48,000 individuals went bankrupt while waiting for a disability benefits decision. Most of those who applied had to wait over a year for a decision on just one stage of the process. 

Another study shows that SSDI results were often decided by a judge with no medical degree and were not based on case facts. Some of these judges had an average approval rate of just 10%. In general, SSDI applications from 2010–2019 had a 70% denial rate, meaning that most people do not receive awards even if they may need support. Those who do receive SSDI receive a maximum of $1,800 per month, with most receiving less than that. In addition, individuals cannot have more than $2,000 in their bank account if they wish to qualify, and couples cannot have more than $3,000 in their bank account. 

In April 2022, the median national rent in the US was $1,827 per month, meaning that those receiving disability benefits may have had to live with a roommate(s) or family. Given these conditions, many individuals have trouble finding housing, and over a quarter of those with a disability are houseless in the US, making homelessness and disability complex and interconnected crises. Awareness of these statistics and grassroots government action, as a result, can help increase the rights of disabled persons in these sectors. 

Marriage and family rights

In the US, if an individual receiving SSDI or supplemental safety income (SSI) benefits gets married, they may be subject to losing their benefits and health insurance. This law may keep disabled individuals from marrying. For this reason, they might also face barriers regarding the process of adoption and fostering. 

According to the ADA National Network, parents with a disability are also more likely to be referred to child services due to their disability. If any person with a disability feels they have faced discrimination from child safety programs, they may file a complaint with the ADA

Community stigma 

Stigmas related to disabilities are on the rise, according to JSTOR. These may include limiting beliefs about others, assumptions based on stereotypes, name-calling, bullying, and abuse related to disability. Awareness of disabilities and the experiences of disabled persons and using correct terminology are likely essential to ending these harmful behaviors. 

If you are facing or witnessing abuse of any kind, the National Domestic Violence Hotline is available 24/7 for support. Call 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) or text “START” to 88788. You can also use the online chat


Those who do not identify as a person with a disability should utilize correct terminology when referring to disabled individuals. Incorrect terms may be unkind, offensive, and/or harmful. According to the ADA Network, a few examples of correct, respectful terminology can include: 

  • “Accessible” instead of “handicapped” 

  • “Disabled” instead of “differently abled” or “handicapped” 

  • “Human” or “person with a disability” instead of “special” 

  • “Person without disabilities” instead of “normal” 

  • “Person with a mental health condition” instead of “crazy”, “psycho”, or “insane” 

  • “Person who uses a wheelchair” instead of “handicapped” or “wheelchair-bound”

  • “Little person” or “a person of short stature” instead of “dwarf” or “midget”

  • “Survivor” or “someone with…” instead of “victim” or “suffering from…”

  • “Autistic person” or “person with autism”, depending on the preference of the individual

Do not use the “R” word, especially to refer to anyone with any disability or as a joke. Note that hateful labels and names can be considered harassment and, in some cases, hate crimes

In general, defaulting to respectful terminology can help those without a disability reduce stigma and stereotypes, and show care and consideration for those in the disabled community. If you’re unsure of which terms to use for someone in particular, you might respectfully ask them what they prefer, or simply call them by their name and/or desired pronouns. Each person with a disability will likely have terminology they prefer to use in relation to themselves.


What constitutes a disability? 

There are several types of disabilities, including the following. 

Physical disabilities

Physical disabilities can include visible and invisible physical conditions, symptoms, or differences that can cause impairment in one or more areas of daily life. Common physical disabilities may include: 

  • Cerebral palsy 

  • Muscular dystrophy 

  • Spinal injuries

  • Traumatic brain injuries (TBI) 

  • Amputation

  • Facial differences

  • Spina bifida

  • Cystic fibrosis

  • Celiac disease

  • Cancer

  • Epilepsy 

  • Ehlers Danlos syndrome (EDS) 

  • Marfan’s syndrome

  • Multiple sclerosis (MS) 

  • Short stature 

  • Stroke 

  • Migraines 

  • Physical differences from birth 

There are many types of physical disabilities, and not all may be visible. For these reasons, assuming disability based on the existence or absence of a mobility aid or assistive technology can be an example of harmful stereotyping. 

Deafness or hard of hearing

Some individuals who identify as deaf or hard of hearing (HOH) may still have some hearing ability, while others may not. Some may utilize assistive devices, such as a cochlear implant, whereas others might choose not to. Some people who are hard of hearing or deaf speak verbally, whereas others may choose not to or cannot. Many people in the hard-of-hearing community speak using Sign Language. Sign Language is a complete language that can vary across different countries and cultures.

Blindness and vision loss 

Blindness or visual impairment is another form of disability. There are varying levels of blindness and vision impairment. Some people may still have some vision capability, whereas others may not have any. Some are born blind, whereas others may develop blindness or a visual impairment over time or due to an accident. Some in this community may use assistive technology, while others may not.

Mental and emotional disabilities

Mental and emotional disabilities can include mental health conditions, intellectual disabilities, and disorders involving the brain and/or nervous system. These conditions may include but are not limited to: 

  • Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) 

  • Depression and anxiety 

  • Bipolar disorder

  • ADHD 

  • Dyslexia or dyscalculia 

  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) 

  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) 

  • Brain injuries 

World Brain Day is another celebration that provides awareness of the importance of brain health and also focuses on the importance of equitable access to treatment needed for brain health. There are many other mental health conditions than those listed here. Not everyone with one of these conditions identifies as “disabled”. Disability status might be a personal choice for some. For example, some movements view forms of neurodivergence as natural brain differences, stating that inaccessibility and societal pressures and stereotypes are the actual challenges they face. Others may disagree. However, it can be a personal decision to identify either way, or it may depend on a variety of other factors.

Do I have a disability? 

If you experience a mental or physical health condition or difference that inhibits your well-being or one or more areas of your daily life, such as bathing, eating, caring for yourself, mobility, or another area, you may have a disability. However, disability identification can be a personal consideration. If you do not want to identify with the label of “disabled”, you do not necessarily have to. You can also speak to your mental health care provider or primary care physician to inquire about your condition further. 

How to increase disability awareness

On the International Day Of Persons With Disabilities, you may help increase awareness through the following activities. 

Advocate for others

When you notice an injustice or discrimination happening to someone with a disability, consider speaking up. You can also advocate for others by writing to your state senator, donating to disability organizations led by disabled individuals, listening to the voices of those with a disability, and joining volunteer movements to offer support. Giving Tuesday organization provides a wonderful opportunity to help and provide support to persons with disabilities. You can volunteer for the organization, or you can show your act of kindness to persons with disabilities in your own way.

Part of standing up for others might also include standing up against bullying. Bullying can also happen to adults and may be based on disability. If you hear or see someone using an unkind word, insulting a person with a disability, posting offensive messages online, or otherwise being unkind, you might let them know how their words and actions can negatively impact others. Refer them to resources about disabilities if it is safe to do so. 

Pay attention 

When going through your daily routine, consider how someone with a disability might experience each situation. Think about what tools are in place for assistance and what others may be needed. For example, a person without a disability may wonder why there are dips on the sidewalk or yellow slabs before a stoplight. These are examples of available features for those with mobility devices, such as a wheelchair or mobility cane. The tactile surfaces can be also used by those with vision impairment to be able to feel when they’ve reached a street crossing. 

Pay attention to the building you work in or restaurants you frequent. Ask yourself: 

  • Do they have a wheelchair-appropriate entrance, bathroom, and seating? 

  • Do they have a table where those with a wheelchair or mobility device could be seated? 

  • Are their chairs large enough to accommodate people of varying sizes? 

  • If there are two or more floors, is there an elevator? 

  • How wide is the space between the tables? 

  • How loud is the establishment? Is there a sensory-friendly room or area? 

  • Is the menu accessible? 

  • Is there a way for hard-of-hearing or vision-impaired individuals to place an order? 

  • Could someone in an electronic or manual wheelchair back up and turn around in the space? 

  • Is every room in the establishment accessible to the public? 

These are questions that people with disabilities might ask before going somewhere new. As not all locations are accessible, pointing out these issues to management or reporting the business to the ADA could be beneficial in supporting disabled people who visit or may wish to visit the establishment. 

Consider a support job 

If you want to support individuals with disabilities, there may be many openings for jobs in caregiving. For those who have trouble finding care, have financial difficulties, or do not have social or family support, a caregiver can help them perform necessary daily activities such as bathing, eating, using the bathroom, and getting out of the home safely. Many caregiving positions may not require a degree. 

Celebrate the International Day Of Persons with Disabilities

You can celebrate the International Day Of Persons With Disabilities in several ways, including: 

  • Attending a disability rights rally or event

  • Going to a disability-led speech or class

  • Donating to a disability-led nonprofit or organization 

  • Writing to your senator about disability rights

  • Asking for any accommodations you may need for your disability at school or work 

  • Advocating for a disabled family, friend, or partner

  • Learning more about disabilities and accessible formats for presenting information

  • Encouraging those in power to develop innovative solutions

If you have a disability, you may also be able to join an organization, support group, or coalition for those with a certain condition or for those who identify as disabled in general. Having a community can be beneficial in providing crucial social support and enacting change.

Discuss disability and mental health with a professional

Seeking mental health support

Some mental health conditions can be a form of disability for those who identify with the term. Either way, symptoms of a mental health condition can cause impairment in daily life for many individuals. In the US, one in five individuals has a diagnosable mental health condition. Many people seek support from a therapist to discuss their symptoms and devise a treatment plan. 

Additionally, individuals can have a physical and mental health disability simultaneously. In these cases, the accessibility of mental health resources may be difficult. If you face barriers to treatment due to your disability status, you might consider reaching out to an online therapist. With virtual therapy, you can attend counseling sessions from home via a smartphone, tablet, or laptop with an internet connection. You can also typically choose between phone, video, or live-chat sessions with a licensed therapist. Studies suggest that online counseling can be more accessible for disabled individuals than in-person counseling and may be as effective. 

If you’re interested in speaking to a qualified counselor, you might consider signing up with an online therapy platform like BetterHelp. With a service like this, you can get matched with a licensed therapist who suits your needs and preferences per your answers to a brief questionnaire. 


December 3 is the International Day of Persons With Disabilities, intended to raise awareness for disabled experiences, challenges, and joys around the world. The ideas on this list represent respectful, constructive ways you can celebrate and support this day in December and year-round.
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