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  • Writer's pictureSruti Mohapatra

Physical Disabilities

A physical disability is one that affects a person's mobility or dexterity, vision or hearing. A person with a mobility disability may need to use some sort of equipment for assistance with mobility. Being a C7-C8 quadriplegic, I need a wheelchair for mobility. Late Prof. Stephen Hawking, being multiple disabled, needed a mobility device, wheelchair, and communications device. He had two complete wheelchair systems with additional custom-built communication hardware and software which was provided by Intel (Wired, 2015).

Mobility impairment also includes people who have lost limbs or who, because of the shape of their body, require slight adaptations to be made to enable them to participate fully in society. Paraplegia and Quadriplegia are what many people first identify with a physical disability. Varying degrees of loss of limb and other mobility may result from either condition. Other forms of physical disability, such as polio (an acquired disease), cerebral palsy (damage to brain tissue during foetal stages) and some genetic conditions can result in loss of mobility. 

People with mobility disabilities are not "confined;" to wheelchairs. They often transfer over to automobiles and to furniture. Some who use wheelchairs, can walk with the aid of canes, braces, crutches or walkers. Using a wheelchair some of the time does not mean an individual is "faking;" a disability. It may be a means to conserve energy or move about more quickly (Alexa, 2000).

Visual impairment is another type of physical impairment. There are hundreds of thousands of people who suffer greatly from minor to various serious vision injuries or impairments. These types of injuries can also result in severe problems or diseases such as blindness and ocular trauma. Some other types of vision impairment include scratched cornea, scratches on the sclera, diabetes-related eye conditions, dry eyes and corneal graft, macular degeneration in old age and retinal detachment (Wikipedia). 

Hearing loss is a partial or total inability to hear. Deaf and hard of hearing people have a rich culture and benefit from learning sign language for communication purposes. People who are only partially deaf can sometimes make use of hearing aids to improve their hearing ability (Wikipedia). Deafness can be evident at birth or occur later in life from several biologic causes, for example Meningitis can damage the auditory nerve or the cochlea.

Speech and language disabled persons have deviations of speech and language processes which are outside the range of acceptable deviation within a given environment and which prevent full social or educational development (Wikipedia).

The World Health Organization (WHO) published the International Classification of Functioning, Disability and Health (ICF) in 2001. The ICF provides a standard language for classifying body function and structure, activity, participation levels, and conditions in the world around us that influence health. This description helps to assess the health, functioning, activities, and factors in the environment that either help or create barriers for people to fully participate in society. According to the ICF:

  • Activity is the execution of a task or action by an individual.

  • Participation is a person’s involvement in a life situation.

Types of Physical Disabilities (RPwD Act 2016) and examples

(i) Mobility / Locomotor

  • Mobility / Locomotor

- Spinal Cord Injury – Hemiplegia, Paraplegia & Quadriplegia

A spinal cord injury (SCI) is damage to the spinal cord that causes temporary or permanent changes in its function. Symptoms may include loss of muscle function, sensation, or autonomic function in the parts of the body served by the spinal cord below the level of the injury.

  • Amputee – Upper limb, lower limb - A person who's had an arm or a leg surgically removed is an amputee. Some amputees get artificial limbs that allow them to be nearly as mobile as before the loss of a limb.

  • Polio - Short for poliomyelitis, or infantile paralysis, is an infectious disease caused by the poliovirus. In about 0.5 percent of cases, there is muscle weakness resulting in an inability to move.

  • Spina Bifida – Itis a birth defect that occurs when the spine and spinal cord don't form properly. It's a type of neural tube defect. People with spina bifida experience a range of mild to severe physical disabilities including paralysis or weakness in the legs.

  • Loss, Stubs or Deformity of Limbs - This may be caused due to birth defect or may occur due to diseases or accidents. The person may require an artificial limb or learn to use the stubs.

Leprosy Cured means (RPwD Act Schedule) a person who has been cured of leprosy but is suffering from

(i) loss of sensation in hands or feet as well as loss of sensation and paresis in the eye and eye-lid but with no manifest deformity.

(ii) manifest deformity and paresis but having sufficient mobility in their hands and feet to enable them to engage in normal economic activity.

(iii) extreme physical deformity as well as advanced age which prevents him/her from undertaking any gainful occupation, and the expression "leprosy cured" shall construed accordingly.

Cerebral Palsy means (RPwD Act Schedule) a Group of non-progressive neurological condition affecting body movements and muscle coordination, caused by damage to one or more specific areas of the brain, usually occurring before, during or shortly after birth.

Dwarfism means (RPwD Act Schedule) a medical or genetic condition resulting in an adult height of 4 feet 10 inches (147 centimeters) or less.

Muscular dystrophy means (RPwD Act Schedule) a group of hereditary genetic muscle disease that weakens the muscles that move the human body and persons with multiple dystrophy have incorrect and missing information in their genes, which prevents them from making the proteins they need for healthy muscles. It is characterised by progressive skeletal muscle weakness, defects in muscle proteins, and the death of muscle cells and tissue;

Acid Attack victim means (RPwD Act Schedule) a person disfigured due to violent assaults by throwing of acid or similar corrosive substance.


Blindness means (RPwD Act Schedule) a condition where a person has any of the following conditions, after best correction—

(i) total absence of sight; or

(ii) visual acuity less than 3/60 or less than 10/200 (Snellen) in the better eye with best possible correction; or (iii) limitation of the field of vision subtending an angle of less than 10 degree.

Low Vision means (RPwD Act Schedule) a condition where a person has any of the following conditions, namely:—

(i) visual acuity not exceeding 6/18 or less than 20/60 upto 3/60 or upto 10/200 (Snellen) in the better eye with best possible corrections; or

(ii) limitation of the field of vision subtending an angle of less than 40 degree up to 10 degree.

Hearing impairments means (RPwD Act Schedule)

  • Deaf means persons having 70 DB hearing loss in speech frequencies in both ears.

  • Deaf people use sign language as a means of communication. Hundreds of sign languages are in use around the world. In linguistic terms, sign languages are as rich and complex as any oral language, despite the common misconception that they are not "real languages".

  • Hard of hearing means person having 60 DB to 70 DB hearing loss in speech frequencies in both ears;

Speech and Language means (RPwD Act Schedule) a permanent disability arising out of conditions such as laryngectomy or aphasia affecting one or more components of speech and language due to organic or neurological causes.

  • Speech - Apraxia, Dysarthria, Stuttering, Voice

  • Language – Aphasia

  • Medical Conditions – Dementia, Laryngeal Cancer, Oral Cancer, Traumatic Brain Injury


C7 & C8 7th and 8th Cerebral Vertebra

DB Decibels

RPwD Act: Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act 2016

SCI Spinal Cord Injury


RPwD Act. (2016). The Schedule – Specified Disability - Retrieved 05 Apr, 2020.

Retrieved 05 Apr, 2020.

Retrieved 05 Apr, 2020.


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