IDEA's Thirteen Categories of Disabilities
As many as one in seven Americans has a physical or mental disability that interferes with activities of daily living (O'Keefe, 1994). Under both Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990, a person is considered to be disabled if he or she (1) has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more life activities (e.g., learning, test taking), (2) has a record of such an impairment, or (3) is regarded as having such an impairment. In further explaining this definition of disability, ADA specifies impairment as any physiological disorder or condition, cosmetic disfigurement, anatomical loss affecting one or more of the body systems, or any mental or psychological disorder. Included in mental impairment are conditions such as mental retardation, organic brain syndrome, emotional or mental illness, specific learning disability, or attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (Foote, 2000).
The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) does not give a generic definition of disability. That is, there is no single definition of disability given in the IDEA. Instead it lists thirteen separate categories of disabilities under which students may be eligible for special education and related services because of mental, physical, or emotional reasons. In each disability, the student's condition has adversely affected his or her educational performance. The IDEA categories are generally adopted by all states and incorporated into state laws and practice. Each category represents a special type of physical or mental disability. A student's disability status is determined by a multidisciplinary committee, based on a multidimensional comprehensive assessment. The thirteen categories follow:
- Autism: a developmental disability significantly affecting verbal and nonverbal communication and social interaction, generally evident before age 3.
- Deafness: a hearing impairment that is so severe that the student is impaired in processing linguistic information through hearing, with or without amplification.
- Deaf-blindness: simultaneous hearing and visual impairments.
- Emotional disturbance: a disability whereby a student of typical intelligence has difficulty, over time and to a marked degree, building satisfactory interpersonal relationships; responds inappropriately behaviorally or emotionally under normal circumstances; demonstrates a pervasive mood of unhappiness; or has a tendency to develop physical symptoms or fears.
- Hearing impairment: an impairment in hearing, whether permanent or fluctuating, that is not included under deafness.
- Mental retardation: significant subaverage general intellectual functioning existing concurrently with deficits in adaptive behavior and manifested during the developmental period.
- Multiple disabilities: the manifestation of two or more disabilities (e.g., mental retardation-blindness), the combination of which requires special accommodation for maximal learning.
- Orthopedic impairment: physical disabilities, including congenital impairments (e.g., club foot), impairments caused by disease (e.g., poliomyelitis), and impairments from other causes (e.g., cerebral palsy).
- Other health impairment: having limited strength, vitality, or alertness due to chronic or acute health problems (e.g., asthma, heart condition, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder).
- Specific learning disability: a disorder in one or more of the basic psychological processes involved in understanding or in using language, spoken or written, which may manifest itself in an imperfect ability to listen, think, speak, read, write, spell, or do mathematical calculations.
- Speech or language impairment: a communication disorder such as stuttering, impaired articulation, a language impairment, or a voice impairment.
- Traumatic brain injury: an acquired injury to the brain caused by an external physical force or by a certain medical condition (e.g., brain tumor) resulting in total or partial functional disability or psychosocial impairment, or both.
- Visual impairment: a visual difficulty (including both partial sight and blindness) that, even with correction, adversely affects a student's educational performance.
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