Disability Information

Definitions of Disabilities

The term “disabled students” means those students who are developmentally delayed; intellectually disabled; hearing impaired; deaf; deaf/blind; speech or language impaired; visually impaired or blind; emotionally disabled; orthopedically impaired; other health impaired; autistic; multidisabled; or students who have a specific learning disability; and who, because of these impairments, require special education and related services.

The Virginia Department of Education defines the terms used as follows:


Developmental delay means a disability affecting a child ages two by September 30 through six, inclusive: (34 CFR 300.8(b);[ 34 CFR 300.306(b)])

  1. Who is experiencing developmental delays, as measured by appropriate diagnostic instruments and procedures, in one or more of the following areas: physical development, cognitive development, communication development, social or emotional development, or adaptive development, or
  2. Who has an established physical or mental condition that has a high probability of resulting in developmental delay; The delay(s) is not primarily a result of cultural factors, environmental or economic disadvantage, or limited English proficiency; and
  3. The presence of one or more documented characteristics of the delay has an adverse affect on educational performance and makes it necessary for the student to have specially designed instruction to access and make progress in the general educational activities for this age group.

Early Childhood/Preschool/Developmental Disabilities

Specific Learning Disabilities
Specific learning disability means a disorder in one or more of the basic psychological processes involved in understanding or in using language, spoken or written, that may manifest itself in an imperfect ability to listen, think, speak, read, write, spell or do mathematical calculations. The term includes such conditions as perceptual disabilities, brain injury, minimal brain dysfunction, dyslexia, and developmental aphasia. The term does not include learning problems that are primarily the result of visual, hearing, or motor disabilities; of intellectual disabilities; of emotional disabilities; of environmental, cultural, or economic disadvantage.

Emotional Disability
In considering students as having an emotional disability the multidisciplinary team must answer if the behaviors have existed over a long period of time, not just on occasion or for a short period of time; and to a serious degree, that interferes with their learning. Identification of students with emotional disability may, like other disabilities span a range from mild to moderate or severe.

Intellectual Disability
Means significantly sub-average general intellectual functioning existing concurrently with deficits in adaptive behavior and manifested during the development period that adversely affects a child’s education performance

Multiple Disabilities
Two or more impairments at the same time (for example, mental retardation-blindness, learning disability-orthopedic impairment), the combination of which causes such severe education needs that they cannot be accommodated in special education programs solely for one of the impairments. The term does not include deaf-blindness.

Orthopedic Impairment
A severe orthopedic impairment adversely affecting the child’s educational performance. The term includes impairments caused by congenital anomaly (e.g., clubfoot, absence of some member), impairments caused by disease (e.g., poliomyelitis, bone tuberculosis), and impairments from other causes (e.g., cerebral palsy, amputations, and fractures or burns that cause contractures).

Other Health Impairment
Limited strength, vitality or alertness, including a heightened alertness to environmental stimuli, that results in limited alertness with respect to the educational environment that is due to chronic health problems and adversely affects a child’s education performance

Severe Disability
Means a primary disability that:

  • Severely impairs cognitive abilities, adaptive skills, and life functioning;
  • May have associated severe behavior problems;
  • Has the high probability of additional physical or sensory disabilities; and
  • Requires significantly more educational resources than are provided for the children with mild and moderate disabilities in special education programs.

Speech Language Impairments
Speech-language impairments can impact the way a student communicates. Speech errors include errors when producing specific sounds that are not a result of normal development or language acquisition, dysfluency (stuttering), or motor speech issues. Students may also receive therapy for improving the understanding and use of spoken or written language, pragmatics, and meta-linguistic skills. Students with swallowing disorders or dysphagia can also receive services from speech-language pathologists in Virginia public schools.

Traumatic Brain Injury
Traumatic brain injury means an acquired injury to the brain caused by an external physical force, resulting in total or partial functional disability or psychosocial impairment, or both, that adversely affects a child’s educational performance. Traumatic brain injury applies to open or closed head injuries resulting in impairments in one or more areas, such as cognition; language; memory; attention; reasoning; abstract thinking; judgment; problem-solving; sensory, perceptual, and motor abilities; psychosocial behavior; physical functions; information processing; and speech. Traumatic brain injury does not apply to brain injuries that are congenital or degenerative, or to brain injuries induced by birth trauma. (34 CFR 300.8(c)(12))

Visual Impairment/Blind

External Links to Additional Resources

Legal Resources for Special Needs
Keeping Disabled Persons Safe While Remodeling
Creating a Home Where Your Disabled Child can Thrive
Teacher Resources for Special Needs
Disability and Credit Scores
Disability Resources from the Department of Labor
Tips for Disabled Persons to Declutter and Organize their Home
Financial Planning for Special Needs
Low Vision Internet Access
Filtering Sensory Processing Issues At Home
Cleaner Indoor Air & Chemical Sensitivities Campaign
Home Modifications for Disabilities – Checklists and Funding
Home Modifications and Selling Your Home
Special Needs Safety Near Construction Sites
Renters’ Rights for Tenants with Disabilities
Moving for Seniors and People with Disabilities
Finding Credible Medical Information and Advice