Understanding Disabilities

Many people have disabling conditions which are not immediately apparent.  It is helpful to  support your staff and volunteers to build an understanding of disabilities & the need for best practice safeguarding.

Below is an A-Z list of conditions with some notes about their impact

Arthritis – A condition which deteriorates the bone and causes joint pain. The most common condition in the country.

Asperger Syndrome – Shares many of the same traits as autism, some –  such as almost obsessive interest in a hobby or collection and the love of routines, are typical of people with Asperger syndrome.

Autism – An abnormality of childhood development affecting language and social communication.

Blindness – see Visual loss, below

Brain Injury – People can exhibit a wide range of symptoms following brain injury: memory loss, inappropriate behaviour, severe mood swings alongside having little or no understanding of their own condition. They may have communication difficulties and be unable to fully understand what is said to them, appreciate the implications of decisions or be able to express their ideas properly.  The charity Headway provides excellent factsheets 

Cerebral Palsy – A disorder of movement and posture. It is due to damage to a small part of the brain, which controls movement.

Cerebral dysfunction – dysfunction of the brain, which may involve collapse or convulsions, such as in Epilepsy or Stroke.

Cystic Fibrosis – A genetically inherited disorder which affects the lungs and the digestive system.

Deafblind – A severe degree of combined visual and hearing impairment. Few deafblind people are both profoundly deaf and totally blind.

Deafness / Hearing loss – A breakdown of the physiological mechanisms of hearing. May be congenital or the result of an accident or illness.

Dementia – The progressive loss of the powers of the brain. Common causes/types include Alzheimer’s disease, multi infarct dementia, alcohol-related dementia’s, Lewy Body dementia and Pick’s disease.

Disability – A physical or mental impairment which has a substantial and long term effect on a person’s ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities.

Dysarthia – Commonly associated with stroke or neurological disorders, a muscle speech disorder, results in slurred/imprecise/spasms in speech.

Dyslexia – A difficulty in processing and storing information in the brain and affects writing, spelling and reading. It cannot be cured; it is more prevalent in males and covers all social classes. It varies very much in severity and every person with dyslexia is different.

Dysphasia – A serious disorder of language where the intellect remains intact but the person loses his/her ability to use language.

Dyspraxia – A condition in which the person is unable to carry out planned or purposeful movement. One indicator of dyspraxia is uncertain, struggling movement. A person may be found looking at their hand trying to remember what to do with it.

Epilepsy – A symptom of cerebral dysfunction. There are several types of epilepsy and many types of attack, some are major and result in collapse or convulsions, others cause  only a momentary loss of awareness or some twitching in a part of the body.

Heart Disease  – Coronary heart disease is the term that describes what happens when your heart’s blood supply is blocked or interrupted by a build-up of fatty substances in the coronary arteries. It can cause a heart attack . It’s possible to lead a normal life after having heart surgery or problems like a heart attack.  To reduce the risk of heart-related problems, exercise regularly and lead a healthy lifestyle.

Huntingdon’s Disease – A hereditary disorder of the central nervous system. It usually develops in adulthood causing physical & mental control to deteriorate. There is no cure.

Learning disabilities or difficulties – Classed as mild, moderate or severe and will usually have affected an individual since birth. Over a million people in Britain (2% of the population) have mild learning disabilities, while 200,000 (0.4%) have severe learning disabilities for which they require support from education, health and social services.

Mental disorder – Defined in Section 1(2) of the Mental Health Act, 1983, as ‘mental illness, arrested or incomplete development of mind, psychopathic disorder and any other disorder or disability of mind’.

Neurosis – A more common form of mental illness whereby someone will be depressed, anxious or tense to a higher degree than is usual. It exists within around 1 in 7 of the population at any one time. The individual will recognise the presence of their maladaptive behaviour and the effect that it has on their personality.

Parkinson’s Disease – a condition in which parts of the brain become progressively damaged over many years. It is caused by a loss of nerve cells in part of the brain which leads to a reduction in a chemical called dopamine. Dopamine plays a vital role in regulating the movement of the body. Around 1 in 500 people are affected by Parkinson’s disease. Most people with it start to develop symptoms when they’re over 50, although around 1 in 20 people with the condition first experience symptoms when they’re under 40.  Contact Parkinson’s UK for support.

Psychosis – A relatively rare form of mental illness, which less than 1% of the population experience, it is more serious than neurosis. The illness may involve delusions, hallucinations, the inappropriate expression of emotion, hyperactivity, social withdrawal and fragmented thinking. There is also a lack of realisation by a person that their behaviour is abnormal. Schizophrenia is a psychotic illness.

Personality Disorder – A number of categories of personality disorder which cover a wide range of attitudes and behaviour, from compulsive behaviour to fear of other people and social situations.

Multiple Sclerosis – The most common neurological disorder among young adults, affecting around 85,000 people in the United Kingdom. It is the result of damage to the protective sheath surrounding all the nerve fibres in the brain and spinal cord. The damage can affect nerves in the eyes, parts of the brain and spinal cord. Damage to sensory nerves can result in numbness or tingling.

Paraplegic – A person whose lower extremities and the lower part of the torso are paralysed from an injury to the back.

Polio – An infectious disease caused by one of three viruses. If the virus attacks the nerves supplying the arms and legs, they can become weak or paralysed. The virus can affect any part of the body. The most serious cases are those involving the breathing muscles. Any of these symptoms can result in permanent disability.

Rheumatism – Pain in soft tissue, such as muscles, tendons and ligaments.

Spina Bifida – Literally means ‘split spine’, is a congenital deformity of the vertebrae, some of which fail to close. Damage to the spinal cord or spinal nerves may cause varying degrees of paralysis and lack of sensation below the level of damage.

Stroke – a serious life-threatening medical condition that happens when the blood supply to part of the brain is cut off.  If the supply of blood is restricted or stopped, brain cells begin to die. This can lead to brain injury, disability and possibly death.

There are 2 main causes of strokes: 1/ ischaemic – where the blood supply is stopped because of a blood clot, accounting for 85% of all cases and 2/haemorrhagic – where a weakened blood vessel supplying the brain bursts

TIA – transient ischaemic attack (TIA)  – condition related to stroke where the blood supply to the brain is temporarily interrupted. This causes what’s known as a mini-stroke. It can last a few minutes or persist up to 24 hours.

Tetraplegic – A paraplegic person with additional paralysis of the hands and parts of the arms resulting from an injury to the neck.

Visual loss – ranges in severity:

  • Profound blindness – As defined by the World Health Organisation, the inability to count fingers at a distance of ten feet or less.
  • Registered blind – Visual activity is 3/60 or worse, or 6/60 if field of vision is very restricted.
  • Registered partially sighted – Visual acuity is between 3/60 and 6/60 with a field of vision, or up to 6/18 if field of vision is very restricted.
  • Severe low vision – An inability to count fingers at twenty feet or less.