Why Habilitation Is Important For Those With A Disability


Most people think that the terms “rehabilitation” and “habilitation” are the same. It’s not even surprising if you think these two terminologies are interchangeable. While it’s true that these words refer to many forms of physical enhancement or therapy given to people with ailments or disabilities, they’re not the same. Rehabilitation and habilitation are two distinct approaches.

What Is Rehabilitation?

Before you train your sights on habilitation services, you must first define “rehabilitation” or rehab for short. The term refers to the restoration of skills and physical functioning that’s weakened or lost due to injury or disability.

A good example would be a bodybuilder who had an accident and broke his arms. Because of the accident, this person has damaged his arms’ mobility and will not be able to lift weights. It would be best for the man to consult a physical therapist and undergo rehabilitation to restore his arms’ strength and mobility.

Rehabilitation is also the best treatment course for patients who suffer after a stroke or have become disabled due to accidents and diseases.

What Is Habilitation?

Strictly speaking, habilitation is designed to help differently-abled individuals acquire, improve, and retain skills that are necessary for functioning in daily life. Habilitation services target skills and abilities that a person may not be able to develop normally. So, such skills and abilities are not yet present or developed. They’re yet to be introduced or learned by the person concerned.

Habilitation can be given to both kids and adults who have special needs. Kids who have motor skill deficiencies and adults with cognitive disabilities can benefit from this type of service. Patients who have cerebral palsy will need habilitation services to learn functional abilities like sitting and walking. People with speech and hearing impairment since birth are also given resources that include information about habilitation services.

The goal is to help challenged persons improve their adaptive and social skills so that they can normally live in their communities.

The Need To Distinguish Habilitation And Rehabilitation

Life would have been more comfortable had the terms “rehabilitation” and “habilitation” meant the same thing. After all, both are about helping people. But, believe it or not, there’s a need to distinguish these two words. Your insurance coverage is the biggest reason you need to know the difference between these terms.

Suppose you take a close look at a typical insurance plan. You’ll see the insurer’s liability will specify that they will only cover therapy for skills or abilities lost due to injury or illness. It means that if your loss of skills and abilities didn’t result from disease or injury, you don’t qualify for therapy covered by the insurance. In short, most employer insurance plans don’t typically cover habilitation services for now. Some organizations are working to have regulations put in place regarding this matter.

Common Types Of Habilitation Services

There are many types of services that habilitation providers can offer. Not all persons requiring habilitative care have the same needs. Therefore, their parents or family members should make sure that the services offered are suited to their unique needs. Here are some examples of standard habilitation services.

  • In-home or Residential Habilitation

This service is well-suited for persons who require support while living in their own communities. Residential habilitation is provided right in the client’s home. Typically, this service aims to develop and improve a person’s social functioning and other skills associated with daily living.

  • Supported Living Services In Provider-Controlled Environment

Clients who may exhibit challenging behaviors brought about by development disabilities or those with demanding medical and physical needs may require a more comprehensive approach in an environment controlled by the habilitation provider. This type of service is usually given to persons living outside their own homes.

  • Family Support Services

These services are provided not just to the persons requiring habilitation, but also to their family members. Habilitation is done in-home or within the community to educate and train family members in caring for persons with developmental disabilities.

  • Day Habilitation

This service offers flexible programs and daytime supervision for adults who need habilitation to develop their daily living and social skills. Day habilitation services focus on communication and behavioral skills to improve the person’s well-being and chances of social integration.

  • Career Counselling

Some providers, such as CDS Life Transitions, offer career counseling to clients with developmental disabilities. Persons requiring habilitative services don’t necessarily mean they can’t find gainful employment. Sure, there may be challenges, but overcoming those challenges is the purpose of why habilitation is needed in the first place. Helping clients explore various career paths and boost their skills to find jobs may be the most critical step toward giving adult clients a chance to achieve a truly independent life.

Main Thrusts Of Habilitation Programs

All the different habilitation providers and consortiums have one common thrust: It’s to help patients or people with disabilities get a better shot at living independent lives. Regardless of when habilitation is introduced in a person’s life, the primary goal is to build up that person’s independence and open up opportunities to study and even to obtain employment.

Many accredited programs focus on individuals with intellectual difficulties, autism, and cerebral palsy. These are persons who are most likely to have functional disabilities. That said, habilitation can be applied to any person who didn’t have the chance to develop normal daily living skills due to physical or mental disabilities.

Providers adopt a basic approach that teaches their clients how to do some of the most foundational things in life without other people’s help. These skills include anything from brushing one’s teeth to changing one’s clothes. Some programs will even involve cooking, managing finances, and even buying personal items. Habilitation covers everything that the patients need to develop essential skills that will allow them to live their entire lives independently.

Human Rights And The Right To Choose

Habilitation is given to clients with specific disabilities. Some would argue that such disabilities prevent the patients from making their own decisions, and therefore the habilitative services provided may not be what the patients want. What if the client really doesn’t want to interact with society or even to learn how to brush his teeth? How can the providers know that they’re not infringing on their clients’ right to choose?

Right from the onset, habilitation and the right to choose aren’t contradictory. As a matter of fact, habilitative services will ultimately help the clients learn how to decide for themselves. Although it may not be evident during the early parts of the program, habilitation and the right to choose should work hand in hand to boost the clients’ participation in their own functional development. It’s vital that any habilitative program must allow the client to make choices regarding the abilities or behaviors he needs to learn.

On another note, as habilitation teaches the skills needed to go to school, work, or live independently, persons with disabilities can break down the barriers or limitations that prohibit them from enjoying the same rights as regular people. In this respect, habilitative services encourage equality and human rights.

Who Provides Habilitation Services?

Accredited providers work with habilitation specialists who, in turn, are responsible for working with clients or patients. The specialists are sometimes supported by assistants, and they use a wide array of strategies customized for the needs of children or adult clients.

Teaching functional abilities to children and adults with disabilities can be challenging. This is why habilitation specialists undergo training and certification. Qualifications can vary, depending on the duties that they will focus on.

Ideally, they’re registered and qualified habilitation specialists. Many providers would require their specialists to have relevant prior experience. First aid certification is essential because working with differently-abled persons can be prone to accidents or emergencies. Employers mainly look for specialists who have a degree in psychology, social work, and education. Apart from the degree and job skills, the right habilitation specialist should also have the patience and attitude that suit working with persons with disabilities.

They can also work with other professionals, such as schoolteachers, to ensure the patient’s seamless transition from home to school or work. Specialists can help develop a range of skills in areas like personal care, travel, and even leisure activities.

For patients with visual disabilities, habilitation specialists may also be referred to as mobility specialists, orientation and mobility teachers, or specialists for the visually impaired.

Contact a support coordinator who will connect you with habilitation providers and other specialists near you.


Habilitation is not the same as rehabilitation. While both are important in helping people with disabilities, habilitation is focused on assisting persons in acquiring, developing, and retaining skills and functional abilities to live a normal life. As a service, habilitation can be applied at any point in a person’s life. Both kids and adults with disabilities can benefit from this service. There are many types of habilitation service. Providers can work at the client’s home or in-house.

Habilitation specialists are certified and accredited professionals. They’re the ones who work with the clients face to face. Anyone can become a specialist, but it would be best to have a degree in fields like education, social services, or psychology. A lot of patience and the right attitude will go a long way when working with persons with special needs.

Habilitation providers are crucial in teaching differently-abled individuals how to participate in their communities. It’s essential that resources about habilitation reach the persons and their families who need such services.