Skip to main content

Defining Disabilities

There are many types of disabilities and different ways that disability can be defined and categorized. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention defines disability as:

“Any condition of the body or mind that makes it more difficult for the person to do certain activities and interact with the world around them.”

Disabilities can be present at birth, developmental, accident-related, or caused by a long-term illness or condition. Each disability and each individual is unique. In a 2005 Surgeon General Call to Action to Improve the Health and Wellness of People with Disabilities, the Surgeon General highlights the importance of considering that disabilities include biological, environmental, and social causes and limitations. This variety of factors impacts both how a disability affects people in their daily lives and specific healthcare needs.

Types of Functional Disabilities and disability-related conditions:

Resources to Learn More

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Disability and Health
Website
Provides a more detailed overview of disabilities including data, statistics, articles, and other resources.
Organization(s): Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Federal Statutory Definitions of Disability
Document
A collection of 67 different laws and statutes and their respective definitions of disability.
Organization(s): Interagency Committee on Disability Research
Date: 7/2003

Overview of the International Classification of Functioning, Disability, and Health
Document
Explains the International Classification of Functioning (ICF), a World Health Organization framework, which provides a common language and definitions to measure disability and health.
Organization(s): Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Research and Training Center on Disability in Rural Communities
Website
Publications and training on disabilities in rural communities.
Organization(s): University of Montana Research and Training Center on Disability in Rural Communities.