Towards a Common Language for Functioning, Disability and Health: ICF - The International Classification of Functioning, Disability and Health

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Introduction

The International Classification of Functioning, Disability and Health, known more commonly as ICF, provides a standard language and framework for the description of health and health-related states. Like the first version published by the World Health Organization for trial purposes in 1980, ICF is a multipurpose classification intended for a wide range of uses in different sectors. It is a classification of health and health-related domains -- domains that help us to describe changes in body function and structure, what a person with a health condition can do in a standard environment (their level of capacity), as well as what they actually do in their usual environment (their level of performance). These domains are classified from body, individual and societal perspectives by means of two lists: a list of body functions and structure, and a list of domains of activity and participation. In ICF, the term functioning refers to all body functions, activities and participation, while disability is similarly an umbrella term for impairments, activity limitations and participation restrictions. ICF also lists environmental factors that interact with all these components.

ICF is WHO's framework for health and disability. It is the conceptual basis for the definition, measurement and policy formulations for health and disability. It is a universal classification of disability and health for use in health and health-related sectors. ICF therefore looks like a simple health classifiation, but it can be used for a number of purposes. The most important is as a planning and policy tool for decision-makers.

ICF is named as it is because of its stress is on health and functioning , rather than on disability. Previously, disability began where health ended; once you were disabled, you where in a separate category. We want to get away from this kind of thinking. We want to make ICF a tool for measuring functioning in society, no matter what the reason for one's impairments. So it becomes a much more versatile tool with a much broader area of use than a traditional classification of health and disability.

This is a radical shift. From emphasizing people's disabilities, we now focus on their level of health.

ICF puts the notions of "health" and "disability" in a new light. It acknowledges that every human being can experience a decrement in health and thereby experience some disability. This is not something that happens to only a minority of humanity. ICF thus "mainstreams" the experience of disability and recognises it as a universal human experience. By shifting the focus from cause to impact it places all health conditions on an equal footing allowing them to be compared using a common metric

Year: 
2002
Author: 
World Health Organization