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Understanding Disabilities

An appropriate disability definition is a condition in which there is a cognitive, physical, emotional, or developmental impairment. While some disabilities are genetic, and therefore may be identified quite early in life, others are not diagnosed until the afflicted individual has reached adulthood. According to the World Health Organization, there are currently appropriately 650 million people around with world living with some type of disability. While living with a disability can be difficult, it is definitely not impossible and it does not have to define one’s life. Many support and advocacy groups around the world strive to improve the lives of individuals living with a disability each day.

Types of Disabilities Defined

Generally, disabilities are defined as being physical, sensory, intellectual, or mental health-orientated. Individuals who suffer from physical disabilities are those who are not able to control either gross or fine motor skills, or who have undergone amputation. In contrast, individuals afflicted with sensory disability may experience difficulty with hearing, vision, taste, or touch sensations. Intellectual disabilities often range quite dramatically, and can include individuals who have minor learning disabilities to those with severe mental retardation. Finally, people living with mental health disability are often identified as displaying psychological or behavioral patterns that are dramatically outside the normal range for healthy adults. In some cases, individuals may suffer from two or more disabilities at the same time.

  • Types of Disabilities—Provides examples of and recommendations for working with individuals with various types of disabilities. 

Management of Disabilities

In most cases, the management of disabilities is designed to improve or enhance the life of the individual suffering from the disability. Assistive devices, which are defined as the tools which can help an individual who is afflicted with a disability to overcome daily challenges, have been used for years. In fact, some research suggests that prosthesis—or artificial limbs—were first used as early as 1800 BC. Similarly, wheelchairs are far from modern, and were commonly used in the early 17th century. Other assistive devices that are commonly used by individuals afflicted with disability include text telephones, Braille, sign language, and cut curbs. 

Typically, individuals who are interested in using these types of adaptive devices must undergo intensive training to ensure appropriate use. Depending on the specific type of device, training may take several months or even years. Individuals, who are interested in learning Braille, for example, must often spend a great deal of time identifying specific letters, symbols, and words. This process can be especially timely for individuals who were not born blind—and who instead lost their vision gradually—as their brain may not be programmed for the intricacies of the language.

Prognosis for Disabilities

As with other medical conditions, the prognosis for most disabilities varies quite dramatically from case to case, and is dependent on the overall health and commitment of the afflicted individual. Individuals who are committed to their care can often expect to live a long, healthy life. In contrast, those people who do not conform to their doctors’ recommendations may continue to experience increasing severe impairments in functionality. Often, individuals who suffer from disability must not only take prescription medication on a regular basis, but must also participate in occupational, physical, speech, and psychologist therapy. For many people, these alternative therapies can dramatically improve quality of life.

Support for Disabilities

In most cases, disabilities are lifelong conditions that require on-going care and support. While living with a disability can definitely be a challenge, there are a number of organizations, rule, and regulations designed specifically for individuals who have been born with or affected by a disability. Specifically, the US Rehabilitation Act of 1973 means that all organizations who receive financial assistance from the government must make reasonable accommodations for individuals with disabilities. Similarly, the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 means that the disabled cannot be discriminated against while seeking employment or advancement in their chosen career field. Individuals who have a disability and believe that they may have been discriminated against should seek legal aid as soon as possible—discrimination in any form or fashion should never be condoned.

Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, as Amended—Identification of current language in the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990. 


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