Disability studies recognizes both the broadness of what constitutes disability — including both visible and invisible disabilities — and the different ways in which individuals experience disability. It also differentiates between impairment and disability.
So what are impairment and disability?
Impairment: an injury, illness or congenital condition that causes or is likely to cause a loss or difference of physiological or psychological functionThe Centre for Disability Studies at the University of Leeds
Disability: the loss or limitation of opportunities to take part in society on an equal level with others due to social and environmental barriers
In other words, having an impairment does not automatically result in disability, nor does the impairment itself cause disability. Instead, it’s the environment a person finds themselves in that disables them, through physical or attitudinal barriers.
Disability studies acknowledges those barriers and explores ways of dismantling them. It also recognizes the differences in how disability presents itself. Below are some general categories that disability may fall into.
- Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorders
- Blindness or low vision
- Brain injuries
- Learning disabilities
- Intellectual disabilities
- Medical disabilities
- Physical disabilities
- Psychiatric disabilities
- Speech and language disabilities
- Autism Spectrum Disorder
- Mental illness, PTSD, TBI
Northern Officers Group. (1999). Defining Impairment and Disability. Retrieved from https://disability-studies.leeds.ac.uk/wp-content/uploads/sites/40/library/Northern-Officers-Group-defining-impairment-and-disability.pdf.