What Is Disability?

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is concerned with preventing discrimination against persons with disabilities. It defines disability as a physical or mental impairment that substantially restricts one or more major life activities that most people consider routine, such as bathing, eating, managing one’s own finances or transportation, etc. One in five Americans have a disability and it is the largest minority group, which also intersects every demographic group, women, men, teens, children, every culture, race, and nationality.  Individuals with disabilities are married, single, employed, unemployed. Persons with disabilities are members of the clergy, religious, laity, wealthy, poor, immigrants, and nones. Some people don’t consider themselves to have a disability if it’s part of the aging process for example, becoming hard of hearing or having vision loss, due to stigma that is often associated with disability.

The experience and implications of disability are extremely diverse.

It includes: elderly persons who are hard of hearing and may have vision and/or mobility issues; individuals who have physical disabilities and use wheelchairs, cane or walkers; individuals who have significant issues with hand dexterity and/or verbal expression; individuals who understand and communicate better with simple language or pictures; individuals who have autism, among which there is significant diversity; individuals who have mental health challenges, who are blind or have low vision, who are hard of hearing, etc.  People who are Deaf consider Deafness a matter of language and culture, rather than disability, but accessibility is still an important consideration. Disability can occur in utero, at birth and at any moment throughout life, either during developmental stages or through an accident. Also, any one person can have more than one disability. But as noted on the opening page, the impact of disability on someone’s life is as much or more about the interaction between a particular condition and the environment, which includes the physical environment, attitudes of people in the community, and the processes for participation.*  

* Updated 9/2/2022.