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March is Developmental Disabilities Awareness Month – Part I


March is Developmental Disabilities Awareness Month – Part I

What is a Disability?


The term “Disability” has been defined in a number of ways.

The Centers for Disease Control says a disability “is any condition of the body or mind (impairment) that makes it more difficult for the person with the condition to do certain activities (activity limitation) and interact with the world around them (participation restrictions).”

Comprehensive but complicated, right?

The Americans with Disabilities Act defines a person with a disability as “someone who has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities.”

While simpler, that definition fails to recognize the diversity of disabilities.

Disabilities can be visible or invisible. They may be innate, something with which a person is born, or acquired. If you picture someone in a wheelchair as the poster child for disability, you’re not alone. Yet, disabilities come in all types, and many are invisible. We must remember that the disability category includes, but is not limited to, mental health disabilities, chronic illnesses, intellectual disabilities, and hearing and vision disabilities.

Disability is not just a diagnosis, as the medical model assumes. It is not in need of fixing. It is a facet of that person’s identity. Disabilities are usually chronic, and most people do not want to be cured of their disability. It is a part of who they are.

The social model of disability identifies our society and its barriers as problems to be addressed and changed.

Critical to the life of a PWD-person with a disability-is to recognize the truth of the IDEA:

“Disability is a natural part of the human experience that does not diminish the right of individuals with developmental disabilities to enjoy the opportunity to live independently, enjoy self-determination, make choices, contribute to society, and experience full integration and inclusion in the economic, political, social, cultural, and educational mainstream of American society.” IDEA Sec. 101.

School students aged 3 to 21 (if they haven’t graduated from high school) have a disability if:

They have a disability that fits within one of 13 categories that adversely affects their educational performance/achievement and they require special education or related services.

Can You See Disabilities?


In many cases, the answer is, “No.”

Some disabilities are visible. Think of cerebral palsy, spina bifida, a person navigating with a white cane. These you can see.

Many other disabilities are invisible, and those PWD are often doubted and maligned for wanting accommodations that are their right under federal and state law.

An invisible disability is a physical, mental, or neurological condition that cannot be seen from the outside. Despite its imperceptible nature, according to the Invisible Disabilities Association, an invisible disability does “impact someone’s movements, senses, or activities.”

This category includes autism spectrum disorder, specific learning disabilities, ADD, and a wide variety of other disorders.

The executive director of the Invisible Disabilities Association, Jess Stainbrook, advises, “It is important to understand invisible disabilities in the workplace because based on statistics, a significant portion of your employees are likely to have one.”

Statistics from a 2017 study indicate that a full thirty percent (30%) of white-collar, college-education employees have a disability. That is three in ten employees. However, only 3.2 % self-identify with their employers. Because they are cloaked by their disability, PWDs go through their life experiencing many more struggles physically, emotionally, and mentally than the average person.

Are PWDs Less Able Than I Am?


Despite their struggles, PWD are often just as capable as others and can achieve a high level of success in a variety of areas both personally and professionally. Once accommodations are made to neutralize the barriers, the stigma, and the hardships they face, PWDs can be as or more successful than the average human.

During this month, let’s remember those among us, our family, friends, and colleagues, who have to work a lot harder than the rest of us and who don’t get the positive recognition they deserve.

If your student has a disability and you need help accessing accommodations in school, please call us! The attorneys at Sussan Greenwald & Wesler are here to help.