Office for People With Developmental Disabilities

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What Do We Mean by the Term "Disability"?


Disability includes a wide range of conditions.

A few examples: 

  • paralysis
  •  blindness or visual impairment
  • deafness or hard of hearing
  • intellectual or developmental disabilities
  • learning disabilities
  • psychiatric disabilities and mental health conditions
  • epilepsy
  • chemical sensitivity 
  • head injuries
  • cerebral palsy
  • and many others

Disability impacts people’s lives in a wide variety of ways, and the level of impact can range from minimal to extensive.

In some cases, a person’s disability is a minor inconvenience, something that is controlled through medication, or requires some simple adaptations. In other cases, a person’s disability plays a major role in their lives, impacting their ability to earn a living, to participate in activities in the community, and to do many of the things that many non-disabled people take for granted in their daily lives.

Disabilities are often not apparent.

Learning disabilities, psychiatric disabilities, epilepsy, and multiple sclerosis are just a few of the many disabilities that are often hidden. Never presume that someone doesn’t have a disability just because you can’t see it.

Disability is a natural part of the human existence.

It is important to acknowledge that a person’s disability is only one part of their identity. It is not something to be fixed or looked down upon. People with disabilities have the same right as anyone else to full participation in society, and at any given moment you may fall into the category of an “individual with a disability”.

Legal definitions vary considerably.

The Americans with Disabilities Act and State vocational rehabilitation agencies often have varying definitions of disability. Each entity  specifies the criteria that a person must meet in order to have a particular disability. For example, not all people who wear glasses have a visual impairment.