What is disability

The definition of disability varies across different countries because of the individual context of the countries. Singapore’s Enabling Masterplan helps to define disability as “those whose prospects of securing, retaining places and advancing in education and training institutions, employment and recreation as equal members of the community are substantially reduced as a result of physical, sensory, intellectual and developmental impairments”.

For more information on Singapore’s definition of disability, click here.

Physical Disabilities

Physical disability refers to either with a total or partial loss of bodily functions, such as the ability to walk or fine motor skills, or a total or partial loss of a part of the body. Physical disabilities can result from congenital causes, or are acquired later in life, as a result of traffic/industrial accidents or medical conditions such as stroke or infections.

Examples of congenital physical disabilities include muscular dystrophy, cerebral palsy, osteogenesis imperfecta (brittle bone disease), spina bifida and spinal muscular atrophy.

With the right use of Assistive Technology, training and support, persons with physical disabilities can live more independently.

Sensory Disabilities

There are two types of sensory disability, namely visual and hearing impairments.

Hearing impairment

Hearing impairment refer to the partial or complete loss in one or both ears. There are 3 main types of hearing loss – conductive, sensorineural, and mixed hearing loss.

Conductive hearing loss largely affects the external ear, and results in the reduction of sound intensity, or “loudness”.

Sensorineural hearing loss affects the inner ear, and while it also reduces sound intensity, it also introduces an element of distortion, which results in muffled sounds even when they are loud enough. A helpful analogy is when a person tunes into a radio station (e.g. 98.7 FM), but tunes in at the frequency of 98.5 FM. Though the volume may be very loud, the sounds are muffled and not easily comprehended.

Mixed hearing loss is the combination of both conductive and sensorineural hearing loss.

Visual impairment

Visual impairment refers to significant visual loss that cannot be corrected by means of the use of optical lenses, medication or operation. There are also varying degrees of visual impairment. Some people have low vision, others have tunnel vision in which their peripheral vision may be affected, while others experience complete blindness.

Intellectual Disabilities

Intellectual disability is mainly characterized by a measure of their intelligence quotient, as well as limitations in their adaptive functioning. Some of these functions include academic functioning, social functioning and practical functioning.

Mild intellectual disability (MID) is characterized as having an intellectual quotient between 50-70. Persons with an intellectual quotient below 50, are characterized as having moderate to severe intellectual disability.

Developmental Disabilities

A well known example of developmental disability is autism. Autism is a developmental disability of the brain with currently no known causes or cures. Persons with autism largely have social skills problems in the areas of communication, interaction and integration. Some characteristics of persons with autism may include absence of speech, lack of responsiveness to others, repetitive motor behaviors and extreme withdrawal symptoms.  There may also be difficulties in understanding verbal and non-verbal communication, such as gestures, facial expressions and body language.

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