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Defining Disability

Under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), an individual with a disability is a person who:

  1. Has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities;
  2. Has a record of such an impairment; or
  3. Is regarded as having such an impairment.

“Major life activities” include the following:

  • Caring for oneself
  • Performing manual tasks
  • Walking
  • Seeing
  • Hearing
  • Speaking
  • Breathing
  • Learning
  • Working

For more information about the ADA visit

The Adult Basic Education Focus

The focus must be on ability, not the disability. Teach to the student’s strengths. Because this chapter is designed to assist ABE practitioners in meeting the needs of ABE students with physical disabilities, it is necessary to examine the challenges that might prevent the student from achieving his/her goals and develop a basic understanding of physical disabilities.

Based on these challenges, ABE practitioners must strive to provide helpful teaching strategies and adapted instruction. In this chapter, physical disabilities include congenital disabilities, acquired disabilities and chronic health challenges.

An accommodation is an adjustment to an activity or setting that removes a barrier presented by a disability, so a person can have access equal to that of a person without a disability.
Source: Mary Ann Byrnes as published in the NASSP Bulletin, February, 2000

Terminology / Definitions

Congenital Disability
A congenital disability is a condition dating from birth.
Acquired Disability
An acquired disability manifests itself sometime after birth and is likely caused by trauma, illness or disease.  Some examples could include: spinal cord injury, muscular sclerosis (MS), epilepsy, arthritis, hearing loss, vision loss, brain injuries, osteoporosis and Lou Gehrig’s disease.
Chronic Health Condition
A chronic health condition lasts a long time. According to the U.S. National Center for Health Statistics, “chronic diseases generally cannot be prevented by vaccines or cured by medication, nor do they disappear.”
Temporary Disabilities
Common examples of a temporary disability would be hip or knee replacement, a broken arm or leg or recovery from surgery or illness.  In the classroom, adjustments or accommodations would need to be provided for a short period of time.