Disability Definitions

Disability Definitions

What is a disability?

There are a broad range of disabilities that may affect an individual’s ability to communicate, interact with others, to learn or function independently.

The Federal Disability Discrimination Act (1992), definition of “disability” is very broad and includes:

  • Physical
  • Intellectual
  • Psychiatric
  • Sensory
  • Neurological
  • Learning disabilities
  • Physical disfigurement
  • The presence in the body of disease-causing organisms

Interaction with people with disabilities can sometimes be an unfamiliar and difficult experience for some people within the community. This may be the case because individuals are unsure of what to say, the words to use or how to approach the person with a disability without offending them.
Communicating with people with a disability requires common sense and sensitivity. Above all, people must remember to be respectful, polite, thoughtful and communicate in a way that meets the needs of the individual or group that you are speaking with.

In some circumstances it may be appropriate to ask the individual – what communication methods work best for them or in the case of students what format of class work best suits their needs and what can be done to improve their access to class material.

Strategies may include:

  • Accept that some disabilities may be “invisible” but present challenges for the person when communicating with you.
  • Be patient, people with some kinds of disability may take a little longer to understand and respond.
  • If you can’t understand what’s being said, ask the person again.
  • If you are unsure about the best way to communicate with the person, ask them.
  • People from other cultures may not be familiar with the terms “disability” or “impairment”. Use descriptive language to help them understand.