An occupational perspective on the concept of participation in the International Classification of Functioning, Disability and Health--some critical remarks

Am J Occup Ther. 2005 Sep-Oct;59(5):569-76. doi: 10.5014/ajot.59.5.569.


The International Classification of Functioning, Disability and Health (ICF; World Health Organization, 2001) provides an international and interprofessional scientific basis for understanding and studying health. The concept of participation plays an important role in the classification and has become a central construct in health care, rehabilitation, and in occupational therapy. The aim of this paper is to provide a critical analysis of the concept of participation in the ICF. As background, the origins and current presentation of the ICF are presented. The use and function of the ICF and the contemporary discussions regarding the classification are reviewed. An occupational perspective on participation in the ICF reveals major shortcomings regarding the subjective experience of meaning and autonomy. Furthermore, the ICF has limitations in capturing different kinds of participation in a single life situation. Following these analyses we discuss the advantages and shortcomings of using the ICF, and how an occupational perspective can contribute to an ongoing discussion about the development of the ICF.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Activities of Daily Living
  • Disability Evaluation
  • Disabled Persons / classification*
  • Disabled Persons / rehabilitation
  • Health Status Indicators*
  • Humans
  • Occupational Therapy*
  • World Health Organization