Disability results from the interaction between people with impairments and societal obstacles, such as physical barriers and even people’s attitudes. These barriers can get in the way of a person with disability participating in society. By tackling the barriers in the environment, we can (and should) remove some of the challenges faced by persons with disabilities.

One person’s experience of a disability is rarely the same as another’s, even if they have the same type of disability. It is important to remember that everyone’s story is unique and the best way to find out how someone feels about disability is to get to know that person and in a respectful and appropriate manner, and ask them what they are willing to share with you.

There is rich diversity within the disability community and it is helpful to remember that there is a wide spectrum of impairments. For example, not all wheelchair users have the same mobility, some may have a lot of function in their hands and arms and others may only have mobility in their neck and head. Persons who have intellectual disabilities vary greatly in their cognitive ability and not all persons who have autism spectrum disorder exhibit the same behaviours and abilities. People who have vision impairment can have a wide range of sight related issues and the effect of them can range from low vision to blindness. People who have more than one impairment are said to have multiple disabilities.

When it comes to Intellectual Disabilities, and some are more apparent than others. There are many different types of Intellectual Disabilities, and they can be less obvious than physical disabilities. Due to this, individuals tend to face some stigma within society as it is harder to understand their needs, and make sufficient accommodations. Some disabilities such as Down Syndrome may not be visible at all, and individual behaviours and abilities might span a wide range. If you are unsure of what someone with Intellectual Disabilities might prefer, it is always best to ask the individual or their caregivers, about what they would like to share with you regarding their disability and what accommodations you can make so that you are able to understand them better. More information on Intellectual Disability (hyperlink to section below) can be found below.

When it comes to invisible disabilities – and these can include intellectual, as well as physical disabilities such as hearing impairments and visual impairments – the important thing is to take some time to understand someone’s behaviour. You can speak to the individual, their parent, or caregiver before passing judgement. Remember, the map is not the territory, and there might be a lot more going on that what we see. Simply writing someone off as “badly behaved” or “spoilt” also imposes limits to persons with invisible disabilities.

Having a disability does not define an individual, yet it is also an important part of how they experience and interact with the world.

Physical Disability

What is it?

Physical impairment pertains to:

  • A total or partial loss of a person’s bodily functions (e.g. walking, fine or gross motor skills)
  • A total or partial loss of a part of the body

People who use wheelchairs have different abilities. Some are able to use their arms and hands, or get out of their wheelchairs, or walk for short distances.

Hearing Impairment

What is it?

Deafness is the partial or complete loss of hearing in one or both ears.

Levels of Hearing Loss

41 to 70 dBS
Moderate hearing loss
Has difficulty hearing conversation, especially with background noise. May use a hearing aid to amplify sounds.
71 to 90 dBs
Severe hearing loss
Normal conversations will not be audible. Loud speech is also difficult to hear or understand.
91 dBs and above
Profound hearing loss
Difficulty in understanding even amplified speech. May not be able to distinguish any sounds.

Did you know?

‘Deaf’ with an upper-case ‘D’ refers to persons or a community of persons with hearing loss who have chosen to communicate primarily through sign language.

‘deaf’ with a small letter ‘d’ is a general term used to describe people who have a physical condition of hearing loss, whether or not they communicate through sign language.

Visual Impairment

What is it?

Visual impairment is significant visual loss that cannot be corrected to a normal level by medication, surgery or the use of optical lenses such as spectacles.

Visual Function

Examples of what visually impaired people see

Autism Spectrum Disorder

What is it?

Autism is a brain-based developmental disorder with no known cause or cure. It is a spectrum disorder, ranging from mild to moderate to severe. If you would like to find out more, you can visit the Autism Resource Centre's website.


Traits of autism

Intellectual Disability

What is this?

Intellectual Disability
IQ < 70
The average person has an intelligent quotient (IQ) between 90 and 110
Significant limitations in adaptive functioning

Intellectual disability is characterised by a triad of impairments in:

Such as:
Skills in language, math, reasoning, knowledge and memory.
Such as:
Social judgement, interpersonal communication skills and ability to make and retain friendships.
Such as:
Self-management, personal care, job responsibilities, money management, recreation and task organisation.