Types of Disabilities and Language

Types of Disabilities

A disability is a functional limitation or restriction of an individual’s ability to perform an activity. Having a disability does not mean that a person with a disability cannot participate in sports equally. Appropriate accommodations and supports can ensure the inclusion of people in sports programming. It is important to remember that many people can have the same disability but not share the same symptoms, abilities or attitude.   Never judge, or assume, a person’s values, attitude or personality based on their disability.  Person first!

Physical Disabilities

A physical disability is one that affects a person’s mobility or dexterity. A person with a physical disability may need to use some sort of equipment for assistance with mobility. It also includes people who have lost limbs or who require other physical adaptations to participate. Some common physical disabilities include;

Amputations – This can happen to an individual at any stage of life. An amputation can be done on any limb and can affect one’s ability to move, balance and their posture. Some individuals may wear prosthetics while others may not. 

Cerebral Palsy (CP) – Happens at birth and has a wide range of abilities.  People with CP can have mild to severe spasms, range of motion loss, some cognitive affected and speak well, with a stutter, or not at all. Cerebral Palsy is the most common disability in Nova Scotia.

Spinal Cord Injury (SCI) – Is usually caused by an accident (male 16-22 years old are most common) that affects the spinal cord.  A complete injury is loss of sensation/movement below the affected spinal cord injury.  An incomplete injury has some feeling/movement below spinal cord injury. 

Multiple sclerosis (MS) Is a condition that can affect the brain and spinal cord, causing a wide range of potential symptoms, including problems with vision, arm or leg movement, sensation or balance. It’s a lifelong condition that can sometimes cause serious disability, although it can occasionally be mild.

Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) – Trauma affecting brain function.

Epilepsy – This is caused by the Central Nervous System. Brain activity becomes abnormal causing seizures, unusual behavior, sensations and sometimes loss of awareness is possible. Epilepsy can affect both men and women of any age. 

Intellectual Disabilities

Down Syndrome Is a condition in which a person has an extra chromosome.  This extra genetic material causes the developmental changes and physical features of Down syndrome. Individuals with Down Syndrome can also have issues with their neck called Atlantoaxial Instability. It is important to make sure there is no injury to the head or neck.

Autism Spectrum Disorder  – 1 in 76 have it.  Individuals living with Autism can display poorly developed social skills, difficulty with expressive and receptive communication, and the presence of restrictive and repetitive behaviors.  Can be a flight risk.

Rett’s Syndrome – This rare disorder commonly affects girls. There is a progressive loss of speech and motor skills. It is also common for seizures to occur. 

Schizophrenia – A neurological disorder that affects a small number of people. Schizophrenia can cause hallucinations, delusions, disorganized speech and difficulty processing information. 

1p36 Deletion Syndrome – This syndrome has a wide spectrum. Individuals with 1p36 deletion syndrome commonly experience cognitive delay that ranges from mild to severe. They can also experience dysregulation or other behavioral issues. It is also common that they require assistive devices.


“People First Language” (PFL) puts the person before the disability, and describes what a person has, not who a person is. PFL uses phrases such as “person with a disability,” “individuals with disabilities,” and “children with disabilities,” as opposed to phrases that identify people based solely on their disability, such as “the disabled” or “handicapped.” For example, “Accessible Parking” instead of “Handicapped Parking”, “Person Who Uses a Wheelchair/Mobility Chair” instead of “Wheelchair User.”

Some other important terms include;

Diversity – Who is in the room?

Accessibility – Can the people in the room get there and have their basic human rights met to the full extent?

Inclusion – Are the needs, wants, abilities of the people in the room being met in a meaningful way? Planning for the needs of everybody, before we even meet them. 

Equity/Equitable Participation – Providing individuals person-specific treatment, support, opportunities and resources. 

Equality – Providing individuals with the same and equal treatment, support, opportunities, and resources.

Adaptations – Altering a support, opportunity or resource in order for an individual to properly access.