Breaking Down 3 Different Types of Disabilities in Adults

gentleman in an orange-colored jacket talks to a man living with a disability on the grass at a local park.

A disability can be a multifaceted and often diverse condition that impairs a person’s physical, sensory, or mental functioning, limiting their ability to do certain activities and interact with their surroundings.

According to the CDC, about 1 in 4 adults in the U.S. have some form of a disability, whether it be through mobility, cognition, hearing, or vision. That means nearly 61 million people in this country are living with a disability. Disabilities can vary greatly in nature and severity, consisting of a wide range of challenges, from mobility limitations and sensory difficulties to intellectual or emotional barriers. Disabilities are often grouped into different categories based on how they affect people. Sometimes, a person can have more than one type of disability at a time.

To better understand what disabilities a person may face, here are three different types of disabilities:

Physical Disabilities

A person who has a physical disability or mobility disability tends to have trouble moving their arms, legs or even both. They tend to use mobility devices such as canes, walkers, wheelchairs or crutches to help them move around. There are many different reasons why people could have a physical disability, whether it be due to an accident or a health condition.

Either way, someone with a physical disability may need short-term or long-term help moving around, depending on the severity of the condition.

There are two main injuries that can cause a physical disability:

  • Spinal cord injuries: Mainly caused by accidents or other reasons. A person with a spinal cord injury may suffer from paraplegia, which impairs the lower and middle part of the body, or quadriplegia, which impairs the arms, legs, and the middle part of the body.
  • Traumatic brain injuries: Caused by extreme injury to the head, which can make the brain function differently than normal.

Developmental and Intellectual Disabilities

Developmental and intellectual disabilities are similar in that they involve people who learn, move, speak, think, and solve problems in different ways. Both developmental and intellectual disabilities tend to start when a person is young (under the ages of 18-22) and last the rest of their lives.

The most common developmental and intellectual disabilities include:

  • Autism Spectrum Disorder: A variety of conditions that affect how the brain develops and functions in social settings.
  • Cerebral Palsy: A group of conditions that permanently affect the brain’s ability to control body movement and muscle coordination.
  • Muscular Dystrophy: A group of conditions that weaken the muscles over a period of time, eventually making it hard for people to move their limbs, breathe, swallow and perform other bodily functions.
  • Spine Bifida: A condition in which a baby’s spine doesn’t close properly before birth, thereby leading to major intellectual and physical disabilities when they’re older.
  • Down Syndrome: An intellectual disability in which someone has an extra full or partial copy of chromosomes inside their cells, causing them to have learning, memory and language problems as they get older.

Sensory Disabilities

Sensory disabilities consist of one of the five senses being hindered, such as hearing, taste, touch, sight or smell. The most common sensory disabilities tend to fall in the visual and hearing categories for most people.

Visual Disabilities

  • Blindness: The inability to see or having severe vision impairment
  • Low Vision – Various conditions that are made up of a wide range of visual impairments that usually deal with the person’s visual acuity or field of vision.
  • Glaucoma: A group of eye conditions that eventually lead to optic nerve damage and total vision loss.
  • Age-Related Macular Degeneration: A progressive eye disease that leads up to central vision loss due to the macula being affected.

Hearing Disabilities

  • Deafness – Significant loss of hearing which can either be present from birth or manifest later in life
  • Hearing Impairments – A wide spectrum of hearing loss, ranging from mild to profound

From physical limitations and sensory impairments to cognitive challenges, SYNERGY HomeCare understands the impact of disabilities and how they can be unique to each person. Understanding these conditions is important for being more inclusive and sensitive toward people with disabilities.


For more information on how to understand and support people with disabilities, check out our Guide to Understanding and Supporting Adults with Disabilities.

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