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ABCs of Disability

ABCs of Disability

The following information is taken from the foundational module of the Disability Awareness Series, available through the CCRW.

A ccess to basic information
B ecome informed to reduce barriers (physical and attitudinal)
C ommit to address workplace challenges and solutions

The definition of disability is broad and often vague, but here is a general explanation:

“A disability is a long-term restriction in the ability to perform one or more of the basic physical and mental activities most people perform as part of their daily lives. Some of the activities or functions that can be affected by disabilities are, but not limited to, walking, bending, lifting, relating to other people, remembering, learning, seeing, speaking and hearing.”

Of the many categories of disability, each person’s experience of them is unique. Here are some broad definitions of a few of the most common disabilities, and a few you might not have considered.

Blindness: according to the CNIB, blindness is a visual acuity of 20/200 or less, even with corrective lenses or a visual field of less than 20 degrees. Contrary to popular belief that blindness is the complete absence of sight, most people who are legally classified as blind have some vision.

Deaf: a severe to profound hearing loss, with little or no residual hearing. Some deaf people use sign language, such as American Sign Language (ASL) or Langue des signes québécoise (LSQ) to communicate. Others use speech to communicate using their residual hearing and hearing aids, technical devices or cochlear implants, and/or speechreading.

culturally Deaf: This term refers to individuals who identify with and participate in the language, culture and community of Deaf people, based on sign language. Deaf culture does not perceive hearing loss and deafness from a pathological point of view, but rather from a socio-cultural point of view, indicated by a capital D as in “Deaf culture”. Culturally Deaf people may also use speech, residual hearing, hearing aids, speechreading and gesturing to communicate with people who do not sign.

Deafened or Late-deafened: These terms describe individuals who grow up hearing or hard of hearing and, either suddenly or gradually, experience a profound loss of hearing. Late-deafened adults usually cannot understand speech without visual clues such as captioning/computerized notetaking, speechreading or sign language.

Developmental disability: a fundamental difficulty in learning and performing certain daily life skills. Substantial limitations must be noted in the areas of conceptual, practical and social adaptive skills. Adaptive skill limitations occur at the same time as intellectual limitations.

Episodic disability: conditions such as multiple sclerosis, HIV/AIDS, lupus, Hepatitis C, and some forms of mental illness, cancers and arthritis. Features that distinguish episodic disabilities from ‘traditional’ disabilities are their unpredictability, and alternating episodes and degrees of illness and wellness, both of which can force people out of the workforce without warning and then resolve to once again allow people to return to work.

Hard of Hearing: This term is generally used to describe individuals who use spoken language (their residual hearing and speech) to communicate. Most hard of hearing people can understand some speech sounds with or without hearing aids, and often supplement their residual hearing with speechreading, hearing aids and technical devices. The term “person with hearing loss” is increasingly used and preferred.

Learning disabilities: disorders which may affect the acquisition, organization, retention, understanding or use of verbal or nonverbal information. These disorders affect learning in individuals who otherwise demonstrate at least average and often above average abilities essential for thinking and/or reasoning. As such, learning disabilities are distinct from global intellectual deficiency.

Mental illnesses: characterized by alterations in thinking, mood or behaviour (or some combination thereof) associated with significant distress and impaired functioning over an extended period of time. The symptoms of mental illness vary from mild to severe, depending on the type of mental illness, the individual, the family and the socio-economic environment. Mental illnesses take many forms, [including] mood disorders, schizophrenia, anxiety disorders, personality disorders and eating disorders.

Vision loss: can be caused by eye problems that are present from birth, by conditions that appear later in life, or by infections or environmental factors. Four conditions cause the majority of vision loss that is occurring in Canada today: age-related macular degeneration (AMD), glaucoma, diabetic retinopathy and cataracts.

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