This is a word that is used and understood in many different ways. In the medical model of disability, the term refers to physical, mental, cognitive, or developmental conditions that impair a person’s activities, senses, movement, and experiences.
In the social model of disability, disability refers to the societal structures and barriers that limit the activities and life choices of a person with disabilities. In this model, disability is understood as a social problem, not one created by the physical, mental, cognitive, or developmental conditions themselves. See also Person-First Language.
In Integrated Co-Teaching Classrooms within the New York City Department of Education, disabilities are classified according to the 13 categories included in the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA):
- Specific learning disability (SLD): a large umbrella term that includes conditions related to reading, writing, speaking, reasoning, and math challenges.
- Other health impairment: another umbrella for a range of conditions which impact strength, energy, or alertness. ADHD falls under this category.
- Autism spectrum disorder (ASD): a developmental disability which includes a wide range of symptoms that may impact behavior, many of which are connected to social and communication skills.
- Emotional disturbance: a broad category that covers a range of mental health challenges from anxiety and depression, to schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. Some mental health issues may be classified under “Other health impairment.”
- Speech or language impairment: covers challenges related to speech and language such as stuttering, mispronouncing words, difficulty understanding and using language, and more.
- Visual impairment, including blindness: includes challenges related to vision including partial sight or blindness.
- Deafness: covers students who can’t hear all or most sounds and are unable to process linguistic information through hearing, with or without a hearing aid.
- Hearing impairment: refers to difficulties with hearing that fall outside of the definition of deafness.
- Deaf-blindness: covers students who can’t hear all or most sounds and are unable to process linguistic information through hearing, with or without a hearing aid.
- Orthopedic impairment: covers challenges with physical function and ability, such as cerebral palsy.
- Intellectual disability: a type of disability that includes a below-average intellectual disability which may lead to challenges with communication, self-care, and social skills. An example is Down Syndrome.
- Traumatic brain injury: an injury caused by accident or some kind of physical force with lasting effects.
- Multiple disabilities: acknowledges that if students have conditions in more than one of the above categories, they may need support beyond programs designed for just one disability.