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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
  • mental retardation
  • learning disabilities
  • psychiatric disabilities and mental health conditions
  • epilepsy
  • chemical sensitivity
  • head injuries
  • cerebral palsy
  • and many others

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

In some cases, a persons disability is a minor inconvenience, something that is controlled through medication, or requires some simple adaptations. In other cases, a persons 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 doesnt have a disability just because it is not readily apparent.

Disability is a natural part of the human existence

There has been a major shift in our societys view of disability. Disability used to be seen as an aberration, something that had to be fixed before a person could fully participate in their community. A more progressive view is that disability is simply part of a persons identity, not something to be fixed, and that people with disabilities have the same right as anyone else to full participation in society.

This manual considers only long-term disability

Oftentimes when people are injured (such as a broken leg) they temporarily leave work on disability, and return when they are fully recovered. However, this manual is not intended to apply to people whose disability is extremely temporary. This material focuses people whose disability has ongoing, possibly life-long, impact.

Legal definitions vary considerably.

A person may be considered disabled under the Americans with Disabilities Act but not by their states vocational rehabilitation agency. Also, particular conditions specify the criteria that a person must meet in order to have that condition. For example, not all people who wear glasses have a visual impairment. The following are some important legal definitions of disability:

Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)

  • a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more of the major life activities of such individual;
  • a record of such an impairment; or
  • being regarded as having such an impairment.

Social Security

  • The inability to engage in any substantial gainful activity by reason of any medically determinable physical or mental impairment(s) which can be expected to result in death or which has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than 12 months.

Rehabilitation Act

The term individual with a disability means any individual who

  • has a physical or mental impairment which for such individual constitutes or results in a substantial impediment to employment and
  • can benefit in terms of an employment outcome from vocational rehabilitation services.

Under WIA regulations, people with disabilities are defined using the ADA definition. On a practical level, this means that there will be people who utilize One-Stop services who are considered to have a disability, but do not meet the more restrictive definition under the Rehabilitation Act, and therefore are not eligible for services from Vocational Rehabilitation as a One-Stop partner.

Written by:

Institute for Community Inclusion