Please note that this article isn’t meant to be medical advice or used as a diagnosis guide. We conducted research to explain in the simplest way how wide the disabilities’ range goes in hopes of providing educational information that will inspire further research and understanding. If you’ve come here from the direction of the Includas Coloring Book, we hope you find the information helpful and useful for educating your kid(s). If you want more information on language about disabilities, check out our Raise Awareness to Raise Acceptance post to learn about being a disability ally.
What is a disability?
Having a disability means it is difficult or impossible for someone to do a task someone without that disability can easily do. It can be something that you’re born with, something that develops over time, or something that happens later in life. It can be more visible, such as someone who has trouble walking and uses a wheelchair to get around. It can be invisible, like someone who feels anxious and uses number counting to calm themselves (Ability Magazine). There’s a lot of diversity within the disability community, and a lot of disabilities can fall into multiple types. Sometimes a disability is temporary, short-term, or lifelong. Every person with a disability looks different and has their own experience, just like any other person.
About Physical Disabilities
Physical disabilities are visible conditions that affect someone’s body and movement. They are disabilities you can notice most of the time, like someone using a breathing tube, walker, wheelchair, or prosthetic. Examples of conditions physically disabled people may have include cerebral palsy, cystic fibrosis, or multiple sclerosis. Physical disabilities can also be caused by accidents.
Inclusion Manners: Treat someone with a disability like a person but also be aware of their adaptations. If you think someone with a physical disability needs help, ask them first how you can help before you do. They may not want help all the time, just like anyone else!
Avoid terms like “bound and/or confined to a wheelchair,” which assume that wheelchairs are something people are stuck with when that is not the case. Instead, say that they use a wheelchair or are a wheelchair-user. Wheelchairs should not be seen as negative, and neither should any other visible forms of help for people with physical disabilities.
Frida Kahlo, the famous artist known for her self-portraits, got into a bus accident when she was a teenager that damaged her spine and pelvis. Kahlo also had polio when she was a child that left her with a limp in her right leg. She used a wheelchair throughout her life, and she never shied away from her disability in her art.
Claire Wineland was an advocate and activist for children and families affected by cystic fibrosis, a condition where your body produces a lot of mucus in the lungs and digestive system. Claire was born with this condition. When she was only 13 years old, she started the Claire’s Place Foundation to spread awareness about her disability and uplift the voices of the cystic fibrosis community.
About Neurodivergent Disabilities
Neurodivergent disabilities are ones that affect the mind—being neurodivergent means that a person’s brain works differently than others. Someone who isn’t neurodivergent is neurotypical. Neurodivergent people may feel safer by cleaning their hands a lot, hear voices when no one is talking, or have trouble focusing. Some examples of neurodivergent disabilities include obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), dyslexia, and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Many neurodivergent disabilities are also considered invisible disabilities since many people cannot tell if someone is neurodivergent from just looking at them.
Inclusion Manners: Waving and smiling is a universal way to say “Hello!” to everyone and a great way of making friends. Everyone walks through the world differently, but kindness is the first step that goes a long way!
Avoid terms like “crazy” and “dumb” to describe neurodivergent people or in day-to-day conversation. They are words that a lot of people say, but they are normalized ways of saying that being neurodivergent is different in a bad way. Instead of saying that you’re doing something “crazy” or “dumb,” say that you’re being impulsive or silly. Neurodivergent people see the world differently, and it shouldn’t be looked at as the wrong way of seeing things!
Simone Biles, a gold medal-winning Olympic gymnast, has had ADHD since she was a child. She has been very open about her neurodiversity since it was revealed to the public during the 2016 Olympics and said in a tweet that “Having ADHD, and taking medicine for it, is nothing to be ashamed of, nothing that I’m afraid to let people know.”
Keira Knightley, a movie actress known for films like Pride and Prejudice and Pirates of the Caribbean, has had dyslexia her whole life. She took a bit longer to learn how to read than other kids, but she read Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility to help her grow more comfortable with her disability.
About Developmental Disabilities
Developmental disabilities affect how someone develops as they grow, like losing your hearing, having your muscles get weaker, having trouble remembering, or difficulties talking. They are typically life-long disabilities and come from your genetics, but every person with a developmental disability goes on a different journey. Examples of developmental disabilities include blindness, deafness, Down syndrome, and Rett syndrome. Developmental disabilities can apply to the other disability types as well, like physical and neurodivergent.
Inclusion Manners: If your friend with a developmental disability has an aide or a sign language interpreter to help them understand you and their environment, you should speak directly to your friend and not the other person. You may not be talking the way you would with people without disabilities, but it can be the best way for someone to communicate!
Avoid terms like “differently-abled” or “special needs” because being disabled shouldn’t be seen as something sad or negative. Any disabled person shouldn’t feel “othered” or pushed to the side, so using the words that they prefer is the best option.
Millie Bobby Brown, a talented actress known for her role on the show Stranger Things, was born with partial hearing loss in one ear and gradually lost her hearing in that ear completely. Although it was something she had to get used to and can’t fully hear when she performs, she still loves what she does and follows her dreams.
RJ Mitte, an actor known for his appearance on the show Breaking Bad, has had spastic cerebral palsy since he was a toddler. He is an active campaigner for the disability community, especially allowing disabled actors to gain more visibility in the film and television industry.
About Social Disabilities
Social disabilities are ones when someone doesn’t know how to behave with others or can’t understand others’ feelings. Examples of social disabilities include autism, ADHD, and borderline personality disorder. Social disabilities can be neurodivergent and developmental disabilities.
Inclusion Manners: Some people with social disabilities have ways to make themselves feel comfortable by avoiding eye contact, not getting too close to others, or move their arms around. It doesn’t mean that they don’t want to talk to you—it’s just something that works for them.
Anthony Hopkins, an award-winning actor, revealed that he is on the autism spectrum in the last few years. He finds his autistic traits “advantageous for an actor” because he likes to know every character he plays very well. He is also a musician and a painter and feels most comfortable when alone at his home in Wales.
Susan Boyle, an opera singer, found out she was on the autism spectrum a lot later in life and was misdiagnosed when she was a child, doctors saying she had brain damage when that wasn’t the case. After she was properly diagnosed in her fifties, Susan is glad to better understand herself and the coping strategies she’s developed as a disabled person.
About Invisible Disabilities
Invisible disabilities are ones you can’t notice, like someone who has trouble sleeping, has to eat certain foods, feels super nervous about everything, or is scared of sounds. Neurodivergent, developmental, social, and even some physical disabilities can also be invisible disabilities.
Inclusion Manners: Just because you can’t see that someone has a disability doesn’t mean they don’t have one. Checking in with your friends and being there for them is a great thing to do without pushing them to open up about their disability. Not everyone wants to talk about it, so let them tell you before you ask them questions.
Selena Gomez, a famous singer and actress, was diagnosed with lupus when she was 20 years old, a chronic autoimmune disease that causes the body to tell what in the body is healthy and what can make you sick. Selena is very open about her disability and has said she can “relate to people” who also have lupus or other invisible disabilities and sets an example of prioritizing her disability while also balancing it with her career.
Selma Blair, an actress known for films like Legally Blonde and Cruel Intentions, opened up about her multiple sclerosis, which affects the brain and the spinal cord, in 2019. She uses her platform to be open and honest about her disability, often discussing how disabled people are often ignored and embraces her disability: “There’s no tragedy for me. I’m happy.”