A person with a disability: What does that mean?

Frequently, we have conversations with people concerning disabilities — either with persons with a disability or others with questions about disabilities. It’s not easy finding a single definition of “disability.”

see the person

According to the ADA National Network,

“It is important to remember that in the context of the ADA, “disability” is a legal term rather than a medical one. Because it has a legal definition, the ADA’s definition of disability is different from how disability is defined under some other laws, such as for Social Security Disability related benefits.

“The ADA defines a person with a disability as a person who has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activity. This includes people who have a record of such an impairment, even if they do not currently have a disability. It also includes individuals who do not have a disability but are regarded as having a disability. The ADA also makes it unlawful to discriminate against a person based on that person’s association with a person with a disability.”


“While some disabilities can be the result of accidents leading to paralysis, brain damage, etc., others are genetic, for example, cerebral palsy, spina bifida, Down syndrome, muscular dystrophy, blindness, etc. The disabled or differently abled have a different set of emotional and physical needs, which those around them have to be mindful of. Here’s a comprehensive guide with articles about various disabilities and the challenges associated with them.


Who is considered a person with a disability under Section 504 and the ADA?

“Section 504 and the Americans with Disabilities Act defines the terms ‘handicap’ or ‘disability’ with respect to an individual to mean a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more of the major life activities of such an individual. Included in the definition are people who have a record of such an impairment, or are regarded as having such an impairment. The definition of disability under Section 504 and the ADA differs from that typically used to determine eligibility in programs that provide cash assistance based upon disability such as the Federal Supplemental Security Income and Social Security Disability Insurance programs. This definition may also be different from that used by some States to determine whether an individual may be exempt from certain program rules in TANF. For more information on the definition of disability under Section 504, see 29 USC 705; under the ADA, see 42 USC 12102 – PDF.” – SOURCE: US Department of Health & Human Services


This information is from DisabledWorld.com, a website that has an enormous compendium of data about disabilities.

“Disability is a subject you may read or hear about, but not think of as something that may happen to you. However, your chances of becoming disabled are greater than you realize, today more people live with disabilities than ever before due to our aging societies, as well as improved medical treatment. Even celebrities and other famous people have, or develop, disabilities. Some people are born with a disability, others become disabled due to an illness or injury, and some develop them as they age. At some point in our lives almost all of us will have some type of disability.

disabled world

Facts from our Disability Statistics section include:

  • 33% of 20-year-old workers will become disabled before reaching retirement age.
  • Over a billion people, around 15% of the world’s population, have some form of disability.
  • There are approximately 3.3 Million wheelchair users in the U.S and the number is increasing every year.
  • Rates of disability are increasing due to world population aging and increases in chronic health conditions.
  • 1 in 4 US adults (61M) have a disability that impacts major life activities – CDC Morbidity & Mortality Report, 2018-8-17.
  • 93-95% of people with disabilities worldwide do not use a wheelchair, though the universal disability symbol is – a wheelchair.

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