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What is a Disability?

Having a disability means that a person has an impairment that causes difficulty in doing the things most of us take for granted, such as walking or running, eating, washing, dressing, reading, writing, or speaking. Impairment refers to a loss or difference in how a body part works for example partial sight, blindness, paralysis of an arm or leg, or hearing loss or speech disorder.

There are many reasons why people have a disability. – A disability may be the result of an accident, a disease or condition, a birth defect or simply the result of getting older.

Read more about specific disabilities:


Some words to learn: click to see a definition


Able to be used by all people with varied abilities.


A trait or condition that develops sometime during your life. A stroke is an example of an acquired condition.

Adaptive Sports

Changes to sports equipment or how a sport is done so people of any ability can participate. For example, attaching a seat to a snow ski so a person who is paralyzed can sit and ski or running with a sighted guide so a person who is blind can run a marathon.

Assistive technology

The equipment, computer programs or electronic devices that someone with a disability uses to do things without help or with minimal help.


The brain’s ability to think and reason.


A condition that exists at birth like congenital heart disease. Usually used when referring to an illness or a condition.


A condition of the body or the mind that limits a person’s ability to perform activities at home or outside of the home because the person has one or more impairments.


Changes in an organ or tissue of the body that causes a limitation in how the organ or tissue works.


A physical trait or characteristic that is passed from parent to child. An example of a hereditary trait would be eye color.


Being able to see things at a distant more clearly than things that are closer also known as farsightedness.


A limitation in a body part or organ that interferes with how the body part works. Weak muscles and joint stiffness are examples of impairments.


Something that is done without purpose. Blinking is an involuntary motion.

Motor Control

Able to control of the muscles of your body.


Being able to see things that are closer more clearly than things that are at a distance also known as nearsightedness.


Communicating without using words. Non-verbal communication may include body language, sign language, and facial expressions.

Universal Design

Creating or designing places and things that can be used by people with varied abilities so everyone feels included. Examples of universal design are things like entranceways without stairs, lever handles instead of doorknobs, raised buttons on elevator control panels and closed captioning on television.