Disability vs Impairment: What Are the Differences?

disability vs impairment

Did you know that 61 million adults in the United States of America live with a disability? Disabilities that you live with could hold you back and prevent you from living a life that is similar to the people around you. That said, there is a big difference between disability vs. impairment when it comes to your health and the definitions of the terms.

Knowing the differences between impairment and disability will make it much easier for you to know what is a disability and understand the ways in which that disability might hold an individual back. The good news is that you’ve found a great disability guide that will explain what impairment is and why it is so different from disability.

Keep reading this article to learn more about disability explained today!

What Is a Disability?

A big key to determining if something is a disability is if it prohibits someone from taking part in everyday activities that their peers get to engage in. An additional factor to consider when it comes to disability is whether or not the individual is capable of taking care of themselves. Many people that live with a disability require a caregiver to help with daily tasks.

The sad truth is that not many people are exposed to interactions with disabled individuals. It creates an awkward feeling of not knowing how to conduct yourself or what to say.

There are a number of things that could result in a disabled diagnosis from a medical standpoint. Many people with disabilities have impairment in their hearing or their vision. It’s safe to say that disability is more of a challenge than facing impairment.

Types of Disabilities

The most commonly pictured type of disability is a physical disability, as pictured in handicapped parking signs. Many people conjure up the image of someone in a wheelchair when it comes to disabled individuals, but there are a lot of other types of disabilities to consider. Here’s a closer look.


Blindness is a significant disability that many live with, and it creates additional challenges in life since you’re unable to see. Someone that is blind will have some serious difficulties with seeing the difference between total darkness and bright light in both eyes.

Hearing Impairment

Another common form of disability is hearing impairment. This is related to the inability to hear noises around you, though there are two subcategories of hearing impairment to consider.

One is total deafness while the other is “hard of hearing”. Look at what to do when you’re sorting through getting your disability hearing scheduled what now.

Intellectual Disability

Intellectual disability is often referred to as a general learning disability that could keep you from achieving all of your academic goals. It limits the ability to learn, reason, and solve problems that you encounter in life. It has a large impact on social skills as well as practical skills.

Multiple Sclerosis

Multiple sclerosis is one of the most terrifying forms of disability since it involves your immune system attacking your central nervous system. As this progresses, the body’s myelin sheath will get damaged and your nerve fibers will get exposed. Over a longer period of time, MS could cause permanent damage to your body’s nerves.

What Is Impairment?

Terms like “vision-impaired” and “hearing-impaired” are common in the language of people across the United States, but many people don’t know what impairment actually means. When you look at impairment explained, it’s the abnormality or absence of a physical or mental function.

If someone has problems with their brain structure then it’s quite possible that they’ll face impairment of vision, hearing, or other vital functions. The two main impairments that many people face are structural impairment and functional impairment.

Structural impairments refer to any issues with internal or external body parts. The nerve damage that occurs as a result of Multiple Sclerosis is a good example of structural impairments. Losing a limb to infections from diabetes is another example.

Functional impairment results when you lose all use of a limb or a body part. The main reason you can’t use it is due to the pain associated with use. It could also result from damage and pain in your joints that prevent you from using them.

Types of Impairments

Just like disabilities, there are a number of impairments that you need to learn about to determine the difference between disability vs. impairment. Hearing and vision impairments are the most common, but there are a number of others that affect many people across the U.S. each day. Here’s a closer look.

Mobility Impairments

Mobility impairments have a number of classifications, the most severe of which is permanent mobility impairment. That results when you’re injured and become paralyzed. Situational mobility impairments impact your ability to handle certain tasks, while temporary impairment is when you have a broken limb.

Vision Impairments

Someone with a permanent vision impairment is someone that has total blindness. There are also temporary vision impairments, like someone that has recently been poked in the eye. Situational impairment comes into play for people that have a difficult time seeing at night.

Hearing Impairments

Another common form of impairment that many people live with is hearing impairment. Some people are completely deaf while others are considered hard of hearing. If you have a difficult time hearing others in noisy places then odds are that you have a situational hearing impairment. Lack of hearing due to an injury is considered a temporary impairment of your hearing.

Now You Know the Difference Between Disability vs. Impairment

It’s important to have a firm understanding of the difference between disability and impairment, as this gives you more empathy for the people around you. Disabilities will prohibit an individual from living a life that is similar to their peers. It’s independent of impairment, but impairments like vision and hearing impairments could result in someone becoming disabled.

Take some time to explore the rest of our blog if you’re on the lookout for more fun and enlightening content.

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