The term is introduced into sociological literature by H.D. Kirk. The term is useful to point out the contrasting behaviour of people in different situations. For example, adopting parents are role handicapped as compared with natural parents in the same instance such as the death of a child.
The natural parents will receive the support of understanding and sympathy of family and friends readily and firmly. Whereas there is no great likelihood that an equivalent degree of support would be forthcoming to help adoptive parents, whose grief may be no less.
Again the situation of people facing the disaster is different if a disaster occurs during war times when the populace is prepared for hardship. The situation of people facing the disaster would be different if a disaster occurs during peacetime when they are less prepared psychologically. So, we may say that the latter represents a case of role handicap.
To conclude, the concept enhances our understanding of human behaviour in different situations.