Glossary of Disability-related Terms

Note: Definitions are adapted from the Washington state Governor's Committee on Disability and Employment Issues Operations Manual, unless otherwise noted.

Accessible: In the case of a facility, readily usable by a particular individual; in the case of a program or activity, presented or provided in such a way that a particular individual can participate, with or without auxiliary aid(s).

Adaptive Technology: Hardware or software products that provide access to a computer that is otherwise inaccessible to an individual with a disability.

Auxiliary Aids and Services: Includes

  • qualified interpreters or other effective methods of making aurally delivered materials available to individuals with hearing impairments;
  • qualified readers, taped texts, or other effective methods of making visually delivered materials available to individuals with visual impairments;
  • acquisition or modification of equipment or devices; and
  • other similar services and actions (Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990).

Braille: Braille is a system of embossed characters formed by using a Braille cell: a combination of six dots consisting of two vertical columns of three dots each. Each simple Braille character is formed by one or more of these dots and occupies a full cell or space. Braille is often produced using a Braillewriter.

Captioned Films: Public Law 85-905 established the Captioned Films Program, providing distribution of captioned films, to bring to deaf persons an understanding and appreciation of films that play a part in the general and cultural advancement of hearing persons. Theatrical, short subject, documentary, training, and educational films for adults are available. Certain copyright restrictions apply to showings.

Closed Circuit TV Magnifier (CCTV): A television camera used to magnify books or other materials to a television monitor. People commonly refer to these by brand name (i.e., Visualtek, Appollo, etc.).

Disability: 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. (Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990).

Discrimination: The act of making a difference in treatment or favor on a basis other than individual merit.

Facility: All or any portion of buildings, structures, equipment, grounds, roads, parking lots, and other real or personal property.

FM Sound Amplification System: An electronic amplification system consisting of three components: a microphone/transmitter, monaural FM receiver and a combination charger/carrying case. It provides wireless FM broadcast from a speaker to a listener who has a hearing impairment.

Hearing Impairments: Complete or partial loss of ability to hear caused by a variety of injuries or diseases including congenital defects. Types of hearing impairments include conduction deafness, which results from conditions which prevent sound waves from being transmitted to the auditory receptors and perceptive deafness, which is caused by injuries involving sensory receptors resulting in loss of ability to perceive or transmit sound messages to the brain. Frequent limitations including difficulties in understanding language or other auditory messages and/or in production of understandable speech are possible.

Interpreter: A professional person who assists a deaf person in communicating with hearing people. The following certifications are awarded by the Registry of Interpreters of the Deaf (RID) National Certification Board: Expressive Translating, the ability to simultaneously translate from spoken to manual English (verbatim); Expressive Interpreting, the ability to use sign language with hearing impaired persons who possess various levels of language competence; Reverse Skills, the ability to render (manually, orally or written) a hearing impaired person's message; Comprehensive Skills, which includes all of the above skills; Legal Specialist Certificate, which includes Comprehensive Skills plus specialized evaluation to qualify for interpreting in a variety of legal settings.

Large Print Books: Most ordinary print is six to ten points in height (about 1/16 to 1/8 of an inch). Large type is 14 to 18 points (about 1/8 to 1/4 of an inch) and sometimes larger. The format of large print books is also proportionately larger (usually 8 1/2 x 11 inches). Limited appropriate material is available for college level use. Large print books can be obtained from the Washington Library for the Blind and Physically Handicapped. The American Foundation for the Blind, Inc., has a list of large print book publishers and the American Printing House for the Blind has a catalog of large type publications. Copy machines which enlarge print are becoming common.

Mainstreaming: The inclusion of disabled persons, with or without special accommodations, in programs, activities, and facilities with non-disabled persons.

Major Life Activities: Functions such as caring for one's self, performing manual tasks, walking, seeing, hearing, speaking, breathing, learning, working, and participating in community activities. (Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990)

Physical or Mental Impairment: Any physiological disorder or condition, cosmetic disfigurement, or anatomical loss affecting one or more of the following body systems: neurological; musculoskeletal; special sense organs; respiratory, including speech organs; cardiovascular; reproductive; digestive; genito-urinary; hemic and lymphatic; skin; and endocrine; or any mental or psychological disorder, such as mental retardation, organic brain syndrome, emotional or mental illness, and specific learning disabilities. (Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990). 

Qualified Individual with a Disability: An individual with a disability who, with or without reasonable modification to rules, policies, or practices, the removal of architectural, communication, or transportation barriers, or the provision of auxiliary aids and services, meets the essential eligibility requirements for the receipt of services or the participation in programs or activities provided by a public entity (Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990).

Raised Line Drawings: Charts, graphs, and diagrams can be reproduced for blind students by using a raised line drawing board. This board consists of a rubber-like clipboard on which pieces of plastic film are placed. Patterns are then traced on the plastic film with a sharp instrument causing the plastic to stretch and raise. Another method for creating raised line drawings is tracing over the lines of the chart or diagram with Elmer's Glue. This results in a raised drawing that blind students can use as they would Braille.

Reader: A volunteer or employee of the blind or partially sighted student who reads printed material in person or onto audio-tape.

Relief Maps: Most geography departments and some libraries have three- dimensional maps that a blind student could use with a reader to understand land forms, locations, and other topographical features. Relief maps are also available in Braille.

Sign Language: American Sign Language (ASL or Amelsan) is one form of manual communication commonly used by deaf Americans. Sign language is not universal; deaf persons from different countries speak different sign languages. The gestures or symbols in sign language are organized in a linguistic way. Each individual gesture is called a sign. Each sign has three distinct parts: The handshape, the position of the hands, and the movement of the hands. Like any other language, ASL has a distinct grammatical structure. ASL is not based on English or any other spoken language. Two sign systems which are based on English are Signed Exact English (SEE Sign) and Signed English or Siglish. The three systems have elements in common, but American Sign Language is the language used by the majority of deaf persons throughout the United States.

Specific Learning Disability: A disorder in one or more of the basic psychological processes involved in understanding or in using language, spoken or written, which may manifest itself in an imperfect ability to listen, think, speak, read, write, spell, or to do mathematical calculations. The term does not include children who have learning problems which are primarily the result of visual, hearing or motor handicaps, mental retardation, or of environmental, cultural or economic disadvantage. The term does include such conditions as perceptual handicaps, brain injury, minimal brain dysfunction, dyslexia and developmental aphasia. Frequent limitations include hyperactivity, distractibility, emotional instability, visual and/or auditory perception difficulties and/or motor limitations, depending on the type(s) of learning disability. One individual may exhibit two or more symptoms.

TDD or TTY: Known as the Telecommunications Device for the Deaf or Teletypewriter, the TDD/TTY is a device which enables someone who has a speech or hearing impairment to use a telephone when communicating with someone else who has a TDD/TTY. While there are several brands, TDD/TTYs have several features in common. They either have a digital readout or a paper tape, can run off direct current or battery power, or type in letters or numbers. TDD/TTYs can be used with any telephone, and one needs only a basic typing ability to use them.

Vision Impairments: Complete or partial loss of ability to see, caused by a variety of injuries or diseases including congenital defects. Legal blindness is defined as visual acuity of 20/200 or less in the better eye with correcting lenses, or widest diameter of visual field subtending an angular distance no greater than 20 degrees. Types of vision impairments include: Amblyopia, dimness of vision from non-use of eyes; Aniseikonia, a difference in the size and shape of an image perceived by each eye; Astigmatism, distortion resulting from imperfect curvature of cornea; Cataracts, an opacity of the lens; Color blindness, inability to distinguish one or more primary colors; Diplopia, double vision; Glaucoma, partial or total blindness resulting from intensive destructive pressure of fluids inside eye; Hyperopia, farsightedness; Myopia, nearsightedness; Nyctalopia, night blindness; Retinitis pigmentosa, a disease that degenerates the retina, resulting in the eye's inability to transmit picture to the brain, and; Transient blindness, temporary blindness due to temporary interference with maintenance or blood pressure in ophthalmic arteries. Frequent limitations include loss of sight ranging from difficulty in seeing to total blindness, loss of reading ability, and loss of ability to be completely mobile without aids.