Types of disabilities

The ability to recognize different types of disabilities helps make proper accommodations

According to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), a disability is "a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more of the major life activities." Disabilities highlight barriers to access when they are introduced into places and events. Typical categories of disabilities include:


Visual disabilities can cause an inability to see objects, perceive light or color, correctly judge distances, or access information in visual media like print, images, or video. Typical vision symptoms include total blindness, low vision, and color blindness. These impairments can be caused by genetic disorders such as retinitis pigmentosa, degenerative diseases like macular degeneration, or physical damage to the eye or brain.


Mobile disabilities can cause difficulty with, or inability to use, the hands, feet, arms, or legs. Typical symptoms include tremors, muscle slowness, loss of fine muscle control, or paralysis. These impairments can be caused by conditions such as Parkinson's Disease, muscular dystrophy, cerebral palsy, or stroke.


Audio disabilities can cause partial or total inability to perceive sounds and access audio-based information presented in media. Symptoms include total deafness or varying degrees of hearing loss. Auditory impairments can be caused by inner-ear nerve malformation or damage, neurological disorders, or physical trauma to the brain.


Neurological disabilities can cause restricted sensory perceptions, mental processes, or motor functions. Typical symptoms include paralysis, tremors, memory loss, and cognitive malfunctions. Neurological impairments can be caused by genetic disorders affecting the brain or nervous system such as muscular dystrophy, degenerative diseases such as Alzheimer's disease, and seizure disorders such as epilepsy.


Cognitive disabilities can cause loss of memory, reduced attention span, restricted intellectual development, underdeveloped maturity and judgment, or limited of problem-solving and logic skills. Typical symptoms include forgetfulness, extreme emotional changes, intellectual underdevelopment, and inappropriate decisions. Cognitive impairments can be caused by developmental disabilities and learning disabilities.


Medical disabilities can cause restricted endurance, attention, or mobility, various levels of pain, and fatigue. Typical symptoms include shortness of breath, low endurance in activity or sitting, or sudden weakness or pain. Medical impairments can be caused by musculoskeletal injuries, cardiovascular conditions, respiratory illnesses, immune system disorders, and digestive tract problems.


Psychological disabilities can cause impaired intellectual processes, decision rationale, emotional maturity, or perception of reality. Typical symptoms include extreme emotional states or sudden outbursts, inability to comprehend information, mental disconnection from immediate circumstances, or violent acts toward self or others. Psychological impairments can be caused by poor mental health, emotional disorders, addiction disorders, and bipolar disorders.

There are a wide variety of disabilities affecting individuals, and each requires its own assistance.

For help accommodating individuals with disabilities, visit the Where can I get help? entry from the FAQ section of the ADA@IU website.