Types of Disabilities

Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorders
ADD and ADHD are neurological conditions affecting both learning and behaviour. They result from chronic disturbances in the areas of the brain that regulate attention, impulse control, and the executive functions, which control cognitive tasks, motor activity, and social interactions.
Hyperactivity may or may not be present. Treatable but not curable.

Characteristics (may include):

  • Inability to stay on task
  • Easily distracted
  • Poor time management skills
  • Difficulty in preparing class assignments, keeping appointments, and attending class on time.
  • Reading comprehension difficulties
  • Difficulty with math problems requiring changes in action, operation and order
  • Inability to listen selectively during lectures, resulting in problems with note taking
  • Lack of organization in work, especially written work and essay questions
  • Difficulty following directions, listening and concentrating
  • Blurting out answers
  • Poor handwriting

Blindness or Low Vision

The following terms are used in an educational context to describe students with visual disabilities: 

  • "Totally blind" students learn via Braille or other non-visual media.
  • "Legally blind" indicates that a student has less than 20/200 vision in the more functional eye or a very limited field of vision (20 degrees at its widest point).
  • "Low vision" refers to a severe vision loss in distance and near vision.  Students use a combination of vision and other senses to learn, and they may require adaptations in lighting or the print size, and, in some cases, Braille.

Brain Injuries

Brain injury may occur in many ways. Traumatic brain injury typically results from accidents; however, insufficient oxygen, stroke, poisoning, or infection may also cause brain injury. Brain injury is one of the fastest growing types of disabilities, especially in the age range of 15 to 28 years.


Highly individual; brain injuries can affect students very differently. Depending on the area(s) of the brain affected by the injury, a student may demonstrate difficulties with:

  • Organizing thoughts, cause-effect relationships, and problem solving
  • Processing information and word retrieval
  • Generalizing and integrating skills
  • Social interactions
  • Short-term memory
  • Balance or coordination
  • Communication and speech


Students who are deaf or hard of hearing require different accommodations depending on several factors, including the degree of hearing loss, the age of onset, and the type of language or communication system they use. They may use a variety of communication methods, including lip reading, cued speech, signed English and/or American Sign Language.


Deaf or hard of hearing students may:

  • be skilled lip readers, but many are not; only 30 to 40 percent of spoken English is distinguishable on the mouth and lips under the best of conditions
  • also have difficulties with speech, reading and writing skills, given the close relationship between language development and hearing
  • use speech, lip reading, hearing aids and/or amplification systems to enhance oral communication
  • Uses Sign Language as their first language, with English as their second language

Learning Disabilities

Learning disabilities are neurologically based and may interfere with the acquisition and use of listening, speaking, reading, writing, reasoning, or mathematical skills. They affect the manner in which individuals with average or above average intellectual abilities process and/or express information. A learning disability may be characterized by a marked discrepancy between intellectual potential and academic achievement resulting from difficulties with processing information. The effects may change depending upon the learning demands and environments and may manifest in a single academic area or impact performance across a variety of subject areas and disciplines.


Difficulties may be seen in one or more of the following areas:

  • oral and/or written expression
  • reading comprehension and basic reading skills
  • problem solving
  • ability to listen selectively during lectures, resulting in problems with note taking mathematical calculation and reasoning
  • interpreting social cues
  • time management
  • organization of tasks, such as in written work and/or essay questions
  • following directions and concentrating
  • short-term memory

Physical Disabilities

A variety of physical disabilities result from congenital conditions, accidents, or progressive neuromuscular diseases. These disabilities may include conditions such as spinal cord injury (paraplegia or quadriplegia), cerebral palsy, spina bifida, amputation, muscular dystrophy, cardiac conditions, cystic fibrosis, paralysis, polio/post polio, and stroke.


·         Are highly individual; the same diagnosis can affect students very differently.

Psychiatric Disabilities

Psychiatric disabilities refer to a wide range of behavioural and/or psychological problems characterized by anxiety, mood swings, depression, and/or a compromised assessment of reality. These behaviours persist over time; they are not in response to a particular event. Although many individuals with psychiatric disabilities are stabilized using medications and/or psychotherapy, their behaviour and affect may still cycle.