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People can be born with disabilities, they can develop over time, or they can result from an event like an accident. Some disabilities are physical and some are cognitive (sometimes called “mental”). Disabilities can be permanent or temporary, and some change while others stay the same. Sometimes disabilities are apparent to others and sometimes they’re not. People can have more than one disability; and sometimes multiple disabilities are related, sometimes they’re not.
Because they affect each person differently, disabilities are personal in nature. How people choose to identify is also a matter of individual preference. In fact, even the term “disability” is subjective in definition and application.
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which prohibits discrimination against people on the basis of disability, doesn’t provide a specific list of covered disabilities. Instead, the ADA uses a broader description to define disability.
A person with a disability is defined under the ADA as having “a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities;” “a record of such an impairment;” or, “being regarded as having such an impairment.”
Globally, more than a billion people (or 15% of the world’s population) have a disability, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that in the United States, approximately 1 in 4 adults (or 61 million), and 2 in 5 adults age 65 and older (or 40%), have a disability that impacts major life activities. The CDC measured disabilities according to six types: mobility, cognition, hearing, vision, independent living, and self-care. Mobility disabilities are the most common disability type in the United States, affecting 1 in 7 adults.