An estimated 12.6% of the U.S. population lives with a disability, and one in every four adults. While volunteers and family members play important roles in disability care, more and more people are choosing careers working with individuals with disabilities. From special education teachers and home health aides to occupational and physical therapists, learn how you can help people with disabilities enjoy higher functioning and lower risk lives.
The 8 Main Types of Disabilities (and Careers that Help)
Disabilities come in all shapes and severities, from minor vision or hearing loss to major spinal cord injury. And some disabilities may not be noticeable, even by the person who has it. To help better understand and organize disability research and overall care, the World Health Organization created 8 distinct categories, each with a unique set of disabilities within. We’ve detailed them below and included information on some of the most popular careers working with individuals with disabilities that make a difference.
Mobility & Physical Disabilities
- Cystic Fibrosis
- Muscular Dystrophy
Head Injury & Brain Disabilities
- Brain Tumor
- Huntington’s chorea
1. MOBILITY & PHYSICAL DISABILITIES
A mobility or physical disability is one of the most common types of disability. They refer to any type of disability that impacts a person’s movement, coordination, or dexterity. These types of disabilities can exist from birth, follow an accident, or occur after an illness.
POPULAR CAREER: Physical Therapist
Physical therapists work with patients to treat and improve body movements and reduce physical pain, often through physical exercises and stretching. Physical therapists can work with a variety of patients, such as those recovering from an accident, receiving medical treatment for a chronic disease, or living with a permanent disability. Physical therapists also observe patients to help create a treatment plan and assess the effectiveness of existing treatments.
2. HEAD & BRAIN INJURY DISABILITIES
Head and brain injuries can be devastating. They can impact how a person thinks, their personality, and who they are. Two common types include the acquired brain injury (ABI) and traumatic brain injury (TBI). ABI usually refers to brain injuries that occur on the cellular level, often due to a medical issue. In contrast, TBIs are often the result of physical trauma due to an accident. TBIs and ABIs can range from mild to severe. Some individuals have brain disabilities that were there at birth and persist through their lives.
POPULAR CAREER: Occupational Therapist
Occupational therapists help their patients learn how to perform seemingly routine functions after an injury, such as dressing or preparing food. They may also teach a caregiver the best way to help someone with a disability, evaluate a patient’s current condition, and determine their specific needs and course of treatments.
3. SPINAL CORD DISABILITIES
Spinal cord disabilities may stem from a birth defect, but they are most commonly the result of a serious accident. Spine-based disabilities can be complete or incomplete damage to the spinal cord. In the former, some of the brain’s signals may still travel through the spinal cord and reach certain parts of the body. This often results in a loss of movement or sensation of the impacted area. Complete spinal cord injuries are more devastating because there is a full loss of feeling and control.
POPULAR CAREER: Rehabilitation Specialist
A rehabilitation specialist (sometimes called a rehabilitation counselor), works with people with various disabilities to help them live independently. Much of their work deals with managing the challenges and tasks associated with learning to live with a disability. This can include assessing a clients’ situation to identify the assistance they will require, consulting with medical professionals to design a treatment plan, making arrangements for services, advocating on behalf of the client, and locating resources such as medical equipment or therapists.
Careers working with individuals with disabilities
4. VISION DISABILITIES
Although vision loss can be congenital, it’s often due to disease, genetic anomalies, accidents, or aging. Vision-related disabilities also vary by the part of the eye they affect. For example, cataracts could the lens of the eye as a person ages and can accelerate their intensity with exposure to ultraviolet light. In contrast, macular degeneration is damage to the macula, which is part of the retina. It usually leads to partial blindness, such as blurred vision in the center of the visual field. Other types of visual impairments include:
POPULAR CAREER: Optician
Opticians work with optometrists or ophthalmologists to help patients obtain the best glasses or contact lenses to meet their eye care needs. They can help those with vision-based disabilities by measuring a patient’s face, repairing eyeglasses, and using patient preferences to find the perfect eye care product.
- Auditory Processing Disorder
- Central hearing loss
- Conductive hearing loss
- Mixed hearing loss
- Sensorineural hearing loss
- Eating Disorder
- Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD)
- Bipolar disorder
Cognitive & Learning Disabilities
- Autism Spectrum Disorder
- Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)
- Chronic Fatigue Syndrome
- Generalized Anxiety and Panic Disorder
- Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
5. HEARING DISABILITIES
A hearing disability is partial or complete hearing loss in one or both ears. Hearing problems that result in a disability can occur in the outer, middle, or inner portions of the ear. As with many disabilities, hearing loss may be congenital or acquired. Acquired hearing loss can stem from genetic disorders, head injuries, infection, and even loud noise.
POPULAR CAREER: Ear, Nose, and Throat (ENT) Doctor
An ENT, or ear, nose, and throat doctor (also called an otolaryngologist), is a type of surgeon and physician that specializes in problems with these three locations of the human body. These three systems are closely interrelated; thus, why the doctor focuses on all three instead of just specializing in one. ENT doctors may conduct surgery to insert a cochlear implant or engage in other medical procedures to address the causes of a hearing impairment.
Careers working with individuals with disabilities
6. COGNITIVE & LEARNING DISABILITIES
Sometimes referred to as developmental disorders, cognitive and learning disabilities make it more difficult for a person to accomplish a particular mental task. These tasks can include reading, learning, or speaking. Because human cognition and learning involve a complex process of the human brain, there can be many variations and facets, such issues with memory, problem solving, attention, words, numbers, or visual processing.
POPULAR CAREER: Special Education Teacher
Special education teachers focus on teaching students who have learning, physical, emotional, or cognitive disabilities or challenges. They can teach at all levels of school, but usually only work with those with mild to moderate disabilities. Besides teaching a lesson plan, monitoring student progress, and planning activities for the students, special education teachers also design and implement Individualized Education Programs.
7. PSYCHOLOGICAL DISABILITIES
Psychological disabilities are mental disorders that affect a person’s emotions, thinking, and behavior. A mental illness can become a psychological disorder or disability when it substantially interferes with major life activities. Psychological disabilities can create any number of unusual or unpleasant mental processes, including extreme mood swings, hallucinations, and severe anxiety, all of which can prevent a person from learning, communicating, or working with others. The causes of many of these disabilities have inconclusive origins, although environmental and genetic components have been identified.
POPULAR CAREER: Psychologist
Psychologists study, assess, or treat the cognitive, emotional, social, behavioral, and mental processes of individuals or various groups of people. There are several different types of psychologists. For instance, a clinical psychologist might diagnose and treat someone with a psychological disability, while a rehabilitation psychologist works with physical therapists or special education teachers to improve the learning, physical therapy, or medial treatment of an individual.
8. INVISIBLE DISABILITIES
Invisible disabilities are some of the most difficult to address because they’re so easily missed, sometimes even by the people who have them. The symptoms may not be obvious, or the disability may not have a dramatically negative affect on a person’s life, or healthcare professionals might fail to recognize the disability’s existence. The causes of these disabilities can range from genetic to environmental or acquired origins. For example, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) may have environmental causes, although a person’s susceptibility to it might have a genetic component. Here are a few of them:
POPULAR CAREER: Registered Nurse
A registered nurse (RN) provides medical care directly to patients, as well as coordinates medical care by consulting with other medical professionals, such as surgeons and physicians. One of the key tasks’ RNs have is observing and assessing the condition of a patient and relaying this information to a more specialized professional, such as a medical doctor. Due to their constant direct interaction with patients, RNs are in a prime position to spot telltale signs of invisible disabilities, such as diabetes and certain psychological issues.
Jobs that help people with disabilities can be a rewarding and satisfying career. While the challenges of careers working with individuals with disabilities are many, the joy that is experienced by providing assistance to individuals with disabilities is rewarding enough to many. There are several potential avenues you can take if you have the desire to work in this field.