Types of Disabilities


A disability can occur at any time during a person’s lifetime. Under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, a person with a disability is defined as any person who has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits a major life activity, such as walking, seeing, hearing, speaking, thinking, concentrating, reading, and learning. Although this is not a comprehensive list, here are categories of disabilities/medical conditions that might qualify for accommodation consideration:

  • Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADD/ADHD) is a brain disorder marked by an ongoing pattern of inattention and/or hyperactivity-impulsivity that interferes with functioning or development. Symptoms of AD/HD can include inattention, difficulty sustaining focus, and disorganization. Students with AD/HD sometimes find it challenging to manage their time commitments and to balance their academic studies along with their extracurricular activities.

  • Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is defined as a neurodevelopmental disability characterized by difficulties in social interaction and communication and by restricted or repetitive patterns of thought and behavior. The symptoms of people with ASD fall on a continuum, with some individuals showing mild symptoms and others having much more severe symptoms. Students with ASD might need academic support and other structure in their daily life to handle the demands of being a college student.

  • Chronic Health Conditions that impact a major life activity may be considered for possible accommodation. Examples of chronic health conditions include cancer, POTS, autoimmune disease, diabetes, and lupus; this is by no means a complete list of such medical conditions. A condition does not necessarily qualify for accommodations; medical documentation must substantiate how the condition impacts a major life activity.

  • Learning Disabilities is a general term that refers to a heterogeneous group of disorders manifested by significant difficulties in the acquisition and the use of listening, spelling, reading, writing, reasoning, or mathematical ability. Dyslexia, dyscalculia and dysgraphia represent a few terms that describe specific learning disabilities that can impact a student’s learning.

  • Physical/Sensory Disabilities include deafness, visual impairment, limited mobility. Auxiliary services such as sign language interpreting, barrier free access to buildings, and assistive technology serve as means to create equity and access to programs and facilities.

  • Psychological/Psychiatric Disabilities refers to a range of syndromes and conditions characterized by different types and degrees of emotional, developmental, cognitive, and/or behavioral manifestations. The terms "psychological disabilities" and "psychiatric disabilities" are used interchangeably by professionals in the field. Examples of psychiatric disorders include but are not limited to obsessive-compulsive, bipolar, generalized anxiety, mood, and post-traumatic stress disorders. Students with such conditions might have challenges in handling the demands of their coursework, thus requiring consideration for academic accommodations.

  • Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI)/Post-Concussive Syndrome occurs when an external mechanical force causes brain dysfunction, such as a violent blow or jolt to the head or body. TBI may have mild to profound effects on physical, psychological, emotional, and/or social functioning. There are various categories of TBI, and such conditions can greatly impact a student’s ability to process information and sustain concentration during class lectures.