What is a Disability?
Disability can result from accident, illness, congenital or genetic disorders. There are many different kinds of disability – physical, intellectual, psychiatric, sensory, neurological or health related. A disability may be visible or hidden, may be permanent or temporary, and may have a minimal or substantial impact on a person’s abilities. A disability may affect mobility, ability to learn, or ability to communicate easily.
Conditions that result in physical disabilities include spinal cord injury, arthritis, cerebral palsy, acquired brain injury, multiple sclerosis and a number of other conditions of the muscular, nervous and respiratory systems. These conditions tend to result in some degree of restricted activity in mobility and manipulation, such as restricted arm and hand movements and communication.
The term 'intellectual disability' refers to a group of conditions caused by various genetic disorders and infections. These conditions result in a limitation or slowness in an individual's general ability to learn and difficulties in communicating and retaining information. As with all disability groups, there are many types of intellectual disability with varying degrees of severity.
Disabilities labelled as psychiatric or psychological may include schizophrenia, clinical depression, bipolar disorder, eating disorders such as anorexia nervosa, and anxiety disorders. Anxiety and depression are two of the most common psychological disabilities.
Blindness and Low Vision
There are an estimated 300,000 Australians who are blind or have some kind of vision impairment. While some people have a total absence of vision, about 90 percent of people classified as legally blind have some useable vision. Access requirements of people with vision impairments will therefore vary widely.
Deafness or Hearing Impairment
There are an estimated 30,000 deaf people in Australia who have no useable hearing and whose first language is Auslan (Australian Sign Language). In addition, there are between one and three million Australians with varying degrees of hearing impairment who mainly use oral communication.
Learning disability is the result of neurological disorder which may cause the learner to receive and process some information inaccurately. The most common learning disability is dyslexia. Other learning disabilities are dysgraphia and aphasia. Students with a learning disability may have significant difficulties in perceiving and/or processing auditory, visual or spatial information.
Asperger’s Syndrome is an autistic spectrum disorder caused by a neurological dysfunction which particularly impacts on social functioning. As this is so intrinsic to the way that most teaching and learning takes place, students with autism or Asperger’s Syndrome may find the experience of further education and training daunting despite having the intellectual capacity to study at this level.
A wide range of medical conditions may impact on students’ learning and their ability to attend lectures and tutorials, complete assignments by due dates, or be assessed in the usual ways. These conditions include epilepsy, asthma, diabetes, kidney disorders, cystic fibrosis, cancer, hepatitis, chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS), and HIV/AIDS. While some of these conditions are lifelong, others such as CFS, may last for periods ranging from a few months to several years.
The Disability Discrimination Act (DDA) identifies and defines the following categories of disability:
- Physical - affects a person's mobility or dexterity
- Intellectual - affects a person's ability to learn
- Psychiatric - affects a person's thinking processes
- Sensory - affects a person's ability to hear or see
- Neurological - results in the loss of some bodily or mental function
Used with permission from the NDCO Service Region 20 and 22 website, hosted by STEPS Disability Qld Inc, at http://www.ndco.stepscs.net.au/whatIsDisability.asp.