The 6 Types of Disability and Their Characteristics

All types of disability involve limitations that can be reduced if the right tools are provided. An impairment is an obstacle, but this doesn't mean that it can't be overcome.
The 6 Types of Disability and Their Characteristics

Written by Edith Sánchez

Last update: 27 May, 2022

Just as human beings have various abilities, there are also various types of disability. All of them have in common the fact that they imply a limitation to participation in some area or action in the human sphere.

In addition, all types of disability are the result of impairment or dysfunction in some organs. This becomes an obstacle when it comes to carrying out activities in the same way as those who don’t have this limitation.

However, the existence of a limitation doesn’t mean that individuals need to suppress certain areas of life. In all types of disability, it’s possible to carry out activities and participate in society, as long as the conditions are provided.

The 6 types of disability

A boy with down syndrome holding up his drawing while his mom takes a picture.
The different types of disability imply a certain limitation but not an impediment to carrying out different activities.

There are different types of disabilities, depending on the type of limitation they imply. In other words, we classify disabilities according to the area of life they affect. From this point of view, we find the following modalities.

1. Physical or motor disability

A physical or motor disability is one in which there’s a total or partial decrease in mobility in one or more members of the body. This results in difficulty or impediment when it comes to performing activities that require motor skills.

This condition may be permanent or transitory, and there are several types of motor disability. For example, we can mention the following:

  • Monoplegia. When there’s paralysis in only one limb.
  • Paraplegia. The person loses the ability to walk.
  • Tetraplegia. This affects the mobility of the upper and lower extremities.
  • Hemiplegia. Affects the mobility of one side of the body.
  • Spina bifida. It prevents or hinders a person’s overall movement.
  • Muscular dystrophy. Muscle tone is weak and tissue is lost over time, making movement very difficult.
  • Cerebral palsy. This has to do with severe motor deficiencies that include slowness, stiffness, agitation, paralysis, etc.
  • Amputation. The loss of a body part limits a person’s activity.

2. Sensory disability

Sensory disability refers to the impairment of one or more senses. The main effect is a decrease in the ability to gather information from the environment- Within this category, two types of disability stand out:

  • Visual disability Corresponds to the loss or reduction of vision. It is through sight that 80% of the information from the environment is obtained. Therefore, this limitation causes severe changes in a person’s life.
  • Hearing impairment: In this case, we’re talking about a loss or decrease of functionality in the auditory system, which leads to difficulty in accessing speech and language. In turn, this leads to obstacles in communication and, sometimes, in learning.

3. Intellectual disability

Another type of disability is intellectual disability. It occurs when a person has difficulties or limitations in their cognitive abilities. These include information processing, perception, memory, attention, problem-solving, etc.

It’s very common for people with this type of disability to also have difficulty living and working in the community. Furthermore, there are different degrees of severity; limitations can be mild, moderate, severe, or profound.

You may also be interested in: Raising a Child with Down Syndrome

4. Psychosocial disability

A young girl with a psychosocial disability.

A psychosocial disability occurs when there are impairments in thinking, feeling, or relating to others. These deficiencies must be intense and constant for this type of limitation to be considered as such.

Unfortunately, this is one of the types of disability that carries the greatest stigma in society. There’s not enough knowledge about this issue and, therefore, there are unfounded fears surrounding these limitations. And this further hinders the progress of those who have this type of disability.

5. Visceral disability

This is one of the types of disability we tend to be the least aware of, although it’s also one of the most frequent. A visceral disability refers to cases in which a person has deficiencies in the functioning of an internal organ.

For example, visceral disabilities include such common diseases as diabetes and cardiac impairment. These disabilities condition and limit the lives of those who suffer from it and hinders participation in the community.

Don’t miss: Diabetes in Children and Adolescents

6. Multiple disabilities

Multiple disabilities refer to cases in which two or more disabilities are present simultaneously. For example, when a person has motor and intellectual disabilities at the same time.

In these cases, there may be different degrees of severity between one disability and the other. It’s not just a sum of the limitations but rather an interaction between them that generates very specific results in each case.

Disability is a challenge

Overall, each of the different types of disability is an individual challenge for the person who suffers from it, but it’s also a challenge for society. However, a limitation doesn’t have to imply exclusion, nor does it mean that a person can’t participate in society and live a full and happy life.

No matter what type of disability it is, there’s always something we can do to reduce the impact of the limitation. However, this requires the cooperation of the disabled person, their environment, the health system, and – most of all – society in general.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

  • Fernández, M. T. (2017). La discapacidad mental o psicosocial y la Convención sobre los Derechos de las Personas con Discapacidad.
  • Aguilar, M., & Luz, M. (2011). Discapacidad: entre el estigma y la comunidad. Revista Integra Educativa, 4(2), 205-216.
  • Toboso-Martín, M., & Rogero-García, J. (2012). «Diseño para todos» en la investigacion social sobre personas con discapacidad. Revista Española de Investigaciones Sociológicas (REIS), 140(1), 163-172.
  • Rev. chil. neuro-psiquiatr. vol.50 no.1 Santiago mar. 2012. Calidad de vida en pacientes con discapacidad motora según factores sociodemográficos y salud mental.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.