Degrees of Disabilities

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If someone is described as disabled then typically we will imagine them in a wheel chair, and the disabled signs on toilet doors and parking spaces seem to encourage this view of the term. Perhaps in some cases we might think of someone with a walking stick or crutches as disabled, but for the most part we tend to only be aware of the disabilities we can see and only those that we recognise as problems that we’re familiar with.

However this is a very limited view of the term and actually the word disability can cover any number of different conditions and problems for people covering an amazing range. There are types of disability and there are also degrees of disability, and understanding these can help us to be more accommodating, sympathetic and understanding of others’ plights. When designing a property for instance it can help you to ask whether it’s truly got disabled access – are a few ramps enough to cater for the wide range of disabilities? Here then we will look at some of the different categories of disability and what they mean.

Physical Disability: Of course a physical disability is a physical limitation/impairment that affects the limbs or motor movement in general. In some cases other health conditions that affect certain aspects of life can also be considered physical disability, including surprisingly sleep apnea. There are several scales on which the severity of physical disability can be measured, such as the Roland disability questionnaire. There are also many other arbitrary levels of disability used by government organisations and insurance companies etc to assess the condition of clients.

Sensory Disability: This is a form of disability that we often forget, but it is one of the most common and restrictive of all. Of course the term describes any situation in which a person lacks a sense or is seriously impaired in one. Within this category of disability are various subcategories then:

Visual Impairment: Of course a lack of sight, and one of the disabilities that owners of commercial businesses can do the most to help by installing brail signs. Disability in this area is considered any visual impairment that is severe enough to require additional support other than the conventional means. There are of course a range of ways too in which the vision can be impaired.

Hearing Impairment: The deaf or hard of hearing can also be considered disabled when the problem is severe enough. Thoughtful owners of businesses can include subtitles or sign on their instructional videos to help those with hearing disabilities to follow instructions.

Olfactory and Gustatory Impairment: This is not always considered a disability in the common sense but includes lacking and limited senses of smell and taste. These are not normally considered disabilities though technically they fall into the same category. Other things like ‘phantosmia’ where people have unpleasant ‘phantom’ smells could also be considered disability.

Somatosensory Disorder: These involve insensitivity to touch, hot and cold and is actually an important consideration for those with these conditions who need to be careful running baths and keeping their home adequately heated. It is also very regularly related to other physical impairment and is a result of damaged neural pathways. Sometimes the conditions will be localised to specific areas.

Balance Disorder: Balance disorders leave patients unable to stand and walk easily or without aid and can cause physical disability as a result.

Intellectual Disabilities: These are those disabilities ranging from mental retardation to less serious cognitive deficits such as some learning disabilities.

Mental Health and Emotional Disabilities: Emotional and mental health problems can regularly be severe enough to be classed as disabilities.

Developmental Disabilities: These are disabilities that effect individual’s development. For example this could mean a range of learning disabilities, but it can also mean physical disabilities that are related to development such as spina bifida.

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Gary Wickman

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  • There is a spelling mistake in the paragraph about visual impairment. Also, it would be helpful to have a discussion of degrees of disabilities – first-degree, second-degree, etc. Otherwise, good article.

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Gary Wickman

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