Southeastern Handicapped Services
Say the word “disability,” and people often think of the most obvious types of disabilities – mobility impairments that require a person to use a wheelchair to move around, or perhaps visual or hearing impairments. But disabilities may be physical or cognitive, may be readily observed or “hidden” (such as epilepsy, arthritis, and diabetes), and may result from a variety of causes.
The definition of disability set forth in the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA) does not distinguish between type, severity, or duration of the disability. It states:
“The term ‘disability’ means, with respect to an individual –
(a) a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more of the major life activities of such individual;
(b) a record of such impairment; or
(c) being regarded as having such an impairment.” (P.L. 101-336, Sec. )
The ADA definition is an inclusive definition that tends to capture both the largest and broadest estimate of people with disabilities. It describes a disability as a condition which limits a person’s ability to function in major life activities – including communication, walking, and self-care (such as feeding and dressing oneself) – and which is likely to continue indefinitely, resulting in the need for supportive services.
The United States Census Bureau also uses a broad definition of disability. Starting with the ADA definitions, the Census Bureau then expands its definition to identify people 16 years old and over as having disability if they meet any of the following criteria:
~used a wheelchair or were a long-term user of a cane, crutches, or a walker;
~had difficulty performing one or more functional activities, including seeing, hearing, speaking, lifting/carrying, using stairs, or walking;
~had difficulty with one or more activities of daily living (ADLs), including getting around inside the home, getting in or out of bed or a chair, bathing, dressing, eating, and toileting;
~had difficulty with one or more instrumental activities of daily living (IADLs), including going outside the home, keeping track of money and bills, preparing meals, doing light housework, taking prescription medication in the right amount at the right time, and using the telephone;
~had one or more specified conditions, including a learning disability, mental retardation or another developmental disability, Alzheimer’s disease, or some other type of mental or emotional condition;
~were limited in their ability to do housework;
~were 16 to 67 years old and limited in their ability to work at a job or business; and were receiving federal benefits based on an inability to do work.