Disability Types


Disabilities can affect people in various ways, even if one individual has the same type of disability as another person. According to the latest information compiled by the United States Census Bureau, roughly 56.7 million Americans had at least one type of disability in 2010. This accounts for 18.7 percent of the population living within the United States, making it one of the nation’s most important public health concerns. The prevalence of each disability type varies by age group, ethnicity, and demographic region. The various types of disabilities can affect a person’s hearing, movement, vision, thinking, learning, communication, mental health, memory, and interpersonal relationships. Some disabilities manifest themselves more openly than others. In addition, disabilities can occur at various stages in a person’s life. For instance, infants may develop spina bifida at an early age, which affects the child’s ability to walk. A child may have a traumatic brain injury after falling, which can affect memory. A young adult may develop depression or severe anxiety disorder, making it difficult to manage social situations. A man can develop hearing loss at midlife, which can impact his speech. Lastly, an elderly person can lose eyesight from the development of glaucoma. These types of disabilities exist in every region of the globe.

Physical Disability

A physical disability encompasses any impairment that limits an individual’s mobility. Physical disabilities can affect the function of limbs or entire body. Physical disabilities can limit the accessibility of daily activities. Common physical disabilities include cerebral palsy, spina bifida, muscular dystrophy, and heart defects.
Sensory Disability: Visual, Hearing, Olfactory, Gustatory, and Somatosensory

Sensory disabilities involve the impairment of one or more of the body’s senses. Sensory impairment usually refers to the limitation of vision or hearing.
Visual Impairment

Visual impairment refers to uncorrectable vision loss resulting from disease, trauma, congenital, or degenerative conditions. Visually impaired individuals do not respond to refractive corrective lenses, medication, or surgery. Medical professionals define visually impaired individuals as having one of three disabilities, including a visual acuity of less than 20/60, a central field defect, a peripheral field defect, and reduced peak contrast sensitivity. Visually impaired individuals are either partially sighted, low vision, legally blind, or totally blind.
Hearing Impairment

Hearing impaired individuals have difficulties perceiving sound frequencies typically heard by most people. Mild hearing loss may not qualify as a hearing disability. Individuals with mild hearing loss may respond to the use of hearing aids.
Olfactory and Gustatory Impairment

Other forms of sensory disabilities include olfactory and gustatory impairment, or a loss of smell and taste. Olfactory and gustatory impairment usually occurs in aging individuals; however, younger people have developed these disabilities through a wide variety of causes. Common olfactory disorders include dysosmia, anosymia, hyposmia, hyperosmia, parosmia, phantosmia, and olfactory reference syndrome.

Somatosensory Impairment

Somatosensation refers to the physical sensations arising from the epidermis. These physical sensations enable people to feel and localize touch, perceive temperature changes, and identify objects through touch. Somatosensory impairment refers to an individual’s inability to process the input received from the sensory receptors in the epidermis. Somatosensory impairment can occur anywhere in the body.

Balance Disorders

A balance disorder causes an individual to feel unsteady while standing or walking. Individuals with a balance disorder experiences symptoms of feeling woozy, giddy, spinning, or floating. The human body obtains balance when its sensual systems work together. In other words, the body’s visual, vestibular, and proprioception systems must work in tandem to perceive its surroundings. In addition, the brain must function correctly to process this information to obtain a sense of balance.

Intellectual Disability

Intellectual disabilities refer to a broad range of disorders affecting the ability to comprehend processed information. Intellectual disabilities, commonly known as cognitive disabilities and mental retardation, can manifest in any age group. Intellectual disabilities may impose limitations on an individual’s ability to walk, talk, and take care of themselves. Some intellectually disabled individuals need assistance with dressing and feeding themselves. Intellectually disabled individuals may find it difficult to adapt to social situations as they grow older.

Mental Health and Emotional Disabilities

A mental illness, or psychological disorder, imposes subjective distress that may reflect in an individual’s behavior. Mentally ill individuals typically display abnormal development that falls outside of cultural norms. Mental disorders impact how an individual feels, acts, thinks, and perceives the objective world. Mental illness affects particular regions of the brain and nervous system, usually in a social context. Mental disorders have existed for hundreds of years; however, cultural understanding has changed over time. The modern medical establishment has only started to define its causes, symptoms, and effects. The most common types of mental disorders include anxiety, psychotic, mood, eating, obsessive, addictive, and personality disorders.
Developmental Disability

Developmental disabilities, or birth defects impeding the growth and development of a single or multiple parts of the human body, impact the brain, spinal cord, and nervous system. Individuals with developmental disabilities may exhibit behavioral problems, convulsions, inability to move, and communication difficulties. Some common developmental disabilities include intellectual and development disorders, autistic spectrum disorders, metabolic disorders, sensory-related disabilities, and degenerative disorders.

Invisible Disabilities
Invisible disabilities refer to debilitating conditions that do not produce observable symptoms. Disabled individuals who suffer from invisible disabilities experience internal symptoms, such as weakness, fatigue, dizziness, pain, cognitive dysfunctions, and learning difficulties. Individuals with mild visual and auditory impairment may not make their disabilities as obvious as more severe cases. Other invisibly disabled individuals include the mentally ill and emotionally unstable. Invisibly disabled individuals may have mild or severe limitations that inhibit their interaction with other people and their environment.

Follow these links to learn more about the different types of disabilities: