Jun 14, 2012

Russian Translation of the Term “Disability” in Educational Context

written by Svitlana Kalinska

We recently translated a document in special education that contained a number of terms based on the word “disability.” The glossary provided as a reference by the client suggested translating it into Russian as «инвалидность» (a descriptive term for the health condition derived from the word “invalid”). We realized that this word may sound too strong in Russian and give you a mental image of a crippled person on a wheel-chair. But since we were contractually bound to use the glossary, it was the word we ended up with. Later we received a comment from one of the readers of the document who complained about a poor choice of words in the translation. She wrote that parents whose children had learning disabilities were often put off by the word “invalid” and thus reluctant to send their children to the special education program. The reader suggested translating “Children with Disabilities” as «дети-инвалиды и дети, испытывающие трудности в обучении» (children invalids and children experiencing learning difficulties).  Another suggestion was to translate “special education” as «коррекционная программа обучения» (“correctional training program”).

If you look at the definitions of the terms “disability” and “invalid,” you will notice that they essentially describe the same condition. This is how “disability” is defined by the World Health Organization:

“Disabilities is an umbrella term, covering impairments, activity limitations, and participation restrictions. An impairment is a problem in body function or structure; an activity limitation is a difficulty encountered by an individual in executing a task or action; while a participation restriction is a problem experienced by an individual in involvement in life situations. Thus disability is a complex phenomenon, reflecting an interaction between features of a person’s body and features of the society in which he or she lives.”

Federal Law of the Russian Federation No. 181-FZ “On the Social Protection of Invalids in the Russian Federation,” dated November 24, 1995, defines the term “invalid” as follows:

“Invalid is a person who has health conditions with persistent derangement of body functions caused by diseases, injuries, or defects that leads to life activity limitation and generates a need for invalid’s social protection. Life activity limitation is partial or full loss of capacity or capability for self-maintenance, unassisted movement, orientation, behavior control, education, or work.”

However, a definition of “invalid” found in the Russian Language Dictionary by Ozhegov says: “Invalid is a person who is completely or partially devoid of working capability as a result of some anomaly, wound, injury, or disease.” Also, historically, in the Russian language, the word “invalid” of French origin was applied to war or army veterans as in “retired, distinguished army veteran incapable of further service due to permanent injuries, wounds, or old age” (Russian Language Dictionary by Vladimir Dal). Hence the image of a physically impaired person.

But in principle, “disability” can be compared to “инвалидность” in its current usage.

If however you are concerned about “political correctness” of the translation, there is another Russian term that has been used quite frequently in place of “invalid” first of all in reference to children – “дети (лица) с ограниченными возможностями здоровья” (children (individuals) with limited health capacities). For instance, the Law “On the Main Safeguards of Children’s Rights in the Russian Federation” adopted by the State Duma on July 3, 1998 explains this term as “children having deficiencies in physical and/or mental development.” I personally find this term the winner since it’s both precise and considerate.


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