Defining the four main types of disability

One in 4 people in the United States has a disability—but how is disability even defined? Perkins is here to explain the 4 types of disability and provide a list of helpful examples.

A person presenting next to a screen

By definition

Disability has a lot of definitions—it’s a totally unique experience for each individual and that makes it a diverse topic. Here is just a short list of things that are true about disabilities as a whole.  

A disability can

A person can become disabled from 

A disability can last 

A disability does not

There’s no specific or concise definition because it wouldn’t be useful for everyday people. Charts however, are very useful and we have one, yay! 

Disability charted out

Disability can be broken down into four helpful categories. In the list below you’ll see an array of disabilities from short term to long term. Remember that regardless of how long someone has a disability, it’s still valid. 

illustration of an ear with sound waves near it.


Related to the ears, hearing, and the brain’s relationship to sound.

Short term: Ear infection, build up of ear wax

Long term: Deafness, aging, regular exposure to loud noise

illustration of an eye with red lines above and below.


Related to the eyes, seeing, and the brain’s relationship to the eyes.

Short term: scratched cornea, dilated eyes, headache or migraine symptoms

Long term: progressive vision loss, retina injury 

illustration of a brain from above with areas highlighted.


Related to how people learn, mental health, and processing information. 

Short term: concussion, grief, side effects of medications or anesthesia 

Long term: Autism Spectrum Disorder, brain injury, depression 

Illustration of a person rolling themself forward in a wheelchair.


Related to how people move their bodies. 

Short term: Broken arm, pinched nerve  

Long term: Cerebral Palsy, limb difference, chronic pain

These four categories cover the broadest types of disabilities. Some people have multiple disabilities across all four categories. Others spend a few weeks in one category, but never experience another. With this outline, it’s easier to understand how 1 in 4 people will be impacted by a disability in their lifetime. Disability is incredibly common because there are numerous kinds and ways to be impacted.

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