Types Of Physical Disability (and Characteristics)

We review the differential features between the different categories of physical handicap.

Look around. The entrance to your house or a public building, the streets, public transport such as buses and the subway … all this has been designed for a majority of the population which is capable of moving, perceiving and interacting with the environment in a way normative.

However, there is a part of the citizenry that for various reasons does not have the same capabilities, and their options are limited. This part corresponds to those who suffer from some type of physical, mental or sensory disability. Disability is a barrier for many people, who see their lives limited.

In the case of physical disability, these barriers are sometimes literal, with freedom of movement highly restricted. That is why exploring the different types of physical disability can be a way to understand the needs of the people who present them and to make it easier for them to adapt to the environment.

Impairment and disability: distinguishing between concepts

There is a wide diversity in the capacities and abilities of the different individuals that make up society. We can be taller or shorter, light or brown eyes or skin of a different color. There are also people with more artistic sensitivity than others, or with greater mathematical abilities.

There are people who see very well at long distances while others have a much more developed sense of hearing than the rest. These differences between us do not prevent us from enjoying a more or less similar life, having or should have the same opportunities to develop ourselves and seek our own happiness and that of others while we grow and participate in the world.

However, for some people this is much more complicated due to the existence of some deficiency. Some of them present a different physical or psychic configuration than usual, a part of them being affected or not functioning to the same degree as that which is habitual in the individual himself or in relation to the rest.

These deficiencies can cause the subject who suffers from them to suffer a disability, if the characteristics of their condition limit or prevent the person from carrying out one or more of a daily activity in a normative way. This does not imply not being able to do the same things, but it does mean that they will need support or access routes that take into account their difficulties.

Thus, while deficiency is that organ or aspect that does not work properly, disability is that which cannot or costs more to do due to this malfunction. In the case at hand, physical disability, the functionality affected is movement.

Physical disability concept

We understand physical disability to be that situation or state in which a circumstance occurs that greatly prevents or hinders the person suffering from it from being able to move freely and in a way in which they have full functionality. This type of disability affects the locomotor system, being especially visible in the case of the extremities, although it can affect so that the skeletal muscles cannot be moved voluntarily.

The limitations present in people with physical disabilities make it really difficult for them to lead a normal life unless they have certain external help. These limitations can be permanent or temporary, depending on whether the deficiency that causes them is treated or enough aid is granted so that there is no reduction in functionality.

Most frequent causes

There are a wide variety of reasons why a person may have a physical disability. However, as a general rule we can consider that the deficiencies that cause disability are usually due to a problem or damage either in the muscles or in the nervous system (either at the level of the nerves that innervate the areas in question, in the medulla spinal or somewhere in the motor cortex).

Some of the causes of these injuries can be found in the suffering of diseases such as multiple sclerosis, tumors, infections or inflammations of the muscular or nervous tissues or trauma of different types. Some congenital malformations, such as spina bifida, also cause cases of physical disability.

Classification of physical disability

As we have said, the reasons why a person may have a physical disability are many and varied. When classifying the different types of physical disability, either these causes or the areas that have impaired or limited movement or their causes are usually taken into account.

Thus, we can find that generally the types of physical disability are going to be the following.

Types according to their cause

  • Motor with or without brain involvement

  • Due to illness

  • Mixed

Types according to the affected area

  • Motor disability of the lower extremities

  • Motor disability of the upper extremities, trunk, neck and face

  • Other motor disabilities

Some of the main types of physical disability

Entering into matter, the different kinds of disability or physical handicap are the following.

1. Monoplegia

Paralysis of a single limb, generally caused by damage to the nerve that innervates the area in question.

2. Paraplegia

This involvement due to a spinal cord injury in the dorsal area involves paralysis or inability to move the lower half of the body. It basically affects the legs and feet. The subject loses the ability to walk. It may or may not affect sexual responsiveness.

3. Tetraplegia

Alteration due to a cervical spinal cord injury whose repercussion is observed in the total loss of the ability to move in the lower limbs and in the total or partial loss of the ability to move the upper limbs.

Depending on the position of the injury, the difficulties will be greater or lesser, generally involving greater involvement and disability associated with damage to the vertebrae closest to the skull. In fact, it can lead to the need to use artificial ventilators in order to maintain the patient’s breathing.

4. Hemiplegia

It is an alteration or injury in the nervous system that produces paralysis of the opposite or contralateral part to the damaged one. It is usually due to cerebrovascular accidents or head injuries.

4. Spina bifida

It is a type of congenital malformation in which the neuronal tube and the spinal column do not close completely during the formation of the fetus, causing damage to the nerves and the spinal cord that can impede or hinder the movement of the person.

5. Muscular dystrophy

The group of disorders encompassed within muscular dystrophy cause the presence of a weak muscle tone that loses tissue over time, making movement difficult and causing disability. It is one of the most common types of physical disability.

6. Cerebral palsy

Cerebral palsy is a chronic medical condition due to problems during the brain development of the fetus or child, which has serious effects on motor skills. These effects can range from difficulty and slowness of movement, stiffness, agitation, seizures or even a complete paralysis of the voluntary muscles.

7. Amputation

Loss of limbs or parts of the body can cause physical disability by limiting the person’s normal functioning.

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