Disabled Student Programs and Services (DSPS)

Back to SBCC

Disability Definitions

Types of Disabilities

A disability is a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities such as learning, working, walking, seeing, and hearing. Here are some examples:

Attention Deficit (Hyperactivity) Disorder
Blind and Low Vision
Other Health Conditions and Disabilities
Deaf and Hard of Hearing
Intellectual Disability
Acquired Brain Injury
Learning Disability
Physical Disability
Mental Health
Autism Spectrum



Definition: Attention deficit disorder (ADD) is a neurobiological disorder. Malfunctions in brain chemistry result in inattention, impulsiveness or hyperactivity. Symptoms appear in childhood, are chronic in nature and not attributable to other physical, mental, or emotional causes.

Educational Limitations: ADD results in limitations in completing tasks, controlling impulsivity, or sustaining attention.

Top of Page




Definition: Blindness is often thought to be complete loss of vision with no remaining perception of light. However, this ultimate form of blindness is rare. Far more students have a permanent loss of some, but not all, of their eyesight. Blindness can be either congenital (occurring before or at birth) or is acquired as a result of trauma or a medical disorder. The severity of vision loss varies widely. The definition of legally blind is 20/200 vision with best correction. The most prevalent eye diseases are age-related macular degeneration, cataracts, diabetic retinopathy, retinitis pigmentosa, and glaucoma. Other vision impairments may be the result of night or color blindness, myopia (nearsightedness), astigmatism (irregular curvature of the cornea), hyperopia (farsightedness), and presbyopia where the eye lens becomes elastic.

Educational Limitations: Students who are blind or low vision will have limitations in reading, viewing classroom materials, boards, overheads, videos and other visual presentations. Getting around the campus will be a limitation as well as locating places or materials in labs and classrooms. In addition, visual perceptual problems such as discriminating figure or ground, sequencing, or reading similarly shaped letters or words may preclude comprehension of printed test materials. Students with low vision vary greatly in their ability to use vision. They may be limited in sharpness of vision or ability to see distances, or the student may have reduced central or peripheral vision. If the condition fluctuates, a student may have varying degrees of visual ability from day to day.

Top of Page




Definition: Deafness refers to a profound hearing loss of 90 decibels or greater. Hard of Hearing refers to those students who have some residual hearing. Hearing loss may be conductive when there is a disruption of the transmission of sound through the outer and/or middle ear or sensorineural, which is due to sensory or nerve damage in the inner ear, auditory nerve, or auditory cortex of the brain. When the deafness is congenital (occurring before or at birth) or prelingual (before the age of about three when spoken language is normally acquired) the student will have significant communication impairments resulting from having a restricted exposure to language and social frame of reference when learning to speak, write, or lip-read.

Educational Limitations: The most significant limitation is that hearing loss cuts students off from the usual means of acquiring and transmitting spoken language. Deaf students cannot engage in spoken conversation, listen to information or enjoy the radio, television, movies, music, or video games. Limitations also include appreciating social nuance, jokes, and gossip exchanged by hearing people. Deafness limits hearing in various ways. Many deaf students are unable to perceive sounds, including speech, in a way for it to have meaning for ordinary purposes. Many other students are hearing impaired by background noise, cross talk and certain sound frequencies that limits accurate transmission of information. Deaf and Hard of Hearing students often are limited in mastering English grammatical structure despite intelligence and effort. Lip reading, while helpful, is only 30% to 40% effective and is very tiring.

Top of Page



                                                                                             OTHER HEALTH CONDITIONS and DISABILITIES

Definition: Some chronic health impairments are visible disabilities, but many are invisible illnesses or medical conditions. In some cases the degree of impairment will vary from one day to the next because of the nature of the medical condition, the medication used, or the therapy required. When illnesses do not follow a set course, are progressive, or involve chronic pain, the student may additionally experience depression, anxiety, or other emotions. Chronic Health impairments include AIDS, allergies, back disorders, burns, cancer, Crohn's disease, diabetes, fibromyalgia, heart disease, hemophilia, lupus, multiple sclerosis, muscular dystrophy, renal-kidney disease, respiratory disorders, seizure disorders, sickle cell anemia, Tourette's syndrome. Side effects of medication may include fatigue, memory loss, shortened attention span, loss of concentration, or drowsiness.

Educational Limitations: Medical complications result in a variety of limitations for these students including regular class attendance. In addition, attendance at particular times of day may be a limitation due to treatments or hospitalizations. Side effects of medication may limit classroom responses or taking tests in a timed situation. Some medical conditions may limit mobility, speech, vision, or muscle control. Students may be limited in their use of standard furniture or be limited in maintaining long class periods.

Top of Page




Definition: Title V of the California Education Code defines the developmentally delayed learner as a student who exhibits below average intellectual functioning and potential for measurable achievement in instructional and employment settings.

Educational Limitations: Students may have limitations with critical thinking, inferential reading, analysis or synthesis, and abstract reasoning.

Top of Page




Definition: Traumatic brain injuries result from either external events such as a blow to the head, or internal events, such as a tumor or stroke.

Educational Limitations: Limitations vary depending upon the type, location, and severity of the injury. The student is usually limited in cognitive functioning in the area of memory, concentration, speed of response, spatial reasoning, conceptualization, problem-solving, motor functioning or communication through reading, writing, speaking, or listening.

Top of Page




Definition: Title V of the California Education Code defines learning disabilities as a persistent condition of presumed neurological dysfunction which may exist with other disabling conditions. This dysfunction continues despite instruction in standard classroom situations. Students with learning disabilities exhibit average to above average intelligence ability, severe processing deficits, severe aptitude-achievement discrepancies, and measured achievement in an instructional or employment setting.

Educational Limitations: Learning disabilities may result in limitations in the rate, accuracy, or efficiency of reading, writing, or math. A student with a learning disability does not lack aptitude or ability but is inhibited from demonstrating his or her true intelligence in at least one area of achievement (reading, writing, or math) due to the severe processing deficit. Time management, project organization or initiation, sustained attention, and social skills may be limited. Taking in information, retaining it, or expressing knowledge and understanding to others may be a challenge. The student will have uneven abilities and persistent deficits in auditory, visual, or memory functions.

Top of Page




Definition: There are a wide range of neuromuscular and orthopedic impairments that are congenital, the result of illness, or accident related. Mobility impairments range from slight difficulties with movement to paralysis. Such impairments may be caused by disorders such as arthritis or multiple sclerosis, or they can have congenital causes such as cerebral palsy or muscular dystrophy. They can also be the result of illness, accidents, strokes, or injury to the spinal cord. Some students have impairments in arm or hand movement that are the result of repetitive strain injury. These strain injuries can fluctuate in severity and are susceptible to aggravation from overuse.

Educational Limitations: Impairments can be painful and can limit mobility, strength, speed, endurance, or coordination. Mobility impairments cause difficulties with movement and fine-motor activity. In some conditions, limitations are constant; in others, flare-ups increase limitations intermittently. Some students have difficulty walking; others can stand but cannot walk. Fatigue may be a factor in limiting mobility; many students are able to walk but need to conserve energy by using a wheelchair occasionally. Limitations may include physical access to classrooms, offices, and rest rooms. Limitations may include use of standard height desks or tablet chairs. Some students are limited in their use of steps and may have limited choice in theater seating or may not be able to reach classrooms on the second floor if the elevator is not working. Sometimes upper extremity limitations, which involve the use of hands or arms, can impact the student's ability to reach and manipulate. Limitations may include fine motor tasks such as writing class notes, taking essays and tests, doing homework, completing tasks in science labs, or using computers.

Top of Page




Definition: Psychological disabilities cover a wide range of conditions varying in symptoms and severity. In College the most commonly observed diagnoses are disorders of mood such as bipolar disorder and major depression. Other conditions are anxiety and panic disorders, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and schizophrenia. These disabilities are recognized to have a biological basis and many can be treated with appropriate psychotherapy and psychiatric medications

Educational Limitations: Most students with these psychological disabilities are limited with communication because they react to the increased stress of College by withdrawing. Psychological disabilities limit times of class choice because the student's functioning fluctuates throughout the day. Student's attendance may be limited because of relapses or hospitalizations.

Top of Page




Definition: Autism Spectrum disorders are defined as neurodevelopmental disorders described as persistent deficits which limit the student’s ability to access the educational process. Symptoms must have been present in the early developmental period, and cause limitations in social, academic, occupational, or other important areas of current functioning.

Educational Limitations:  Autism spectrum disorders are characterized by significant limitations and may include, but not be limited to any of the following: 1) Limitations in social-emotional reciprocity (e.g. abnormal social approach; failure of normal back-and-forth conversation; reduced sharing of interests, emotions, or affect; failure to initiate or respond to social interactions);  2) Limitations in nonverbal communicative behaviors used for social interactions (e.g. poorly integrated verbal and nonverbal communication; abnormalities in eye contact and body language; deficits in understanding and use of gestures; total lack of facial expressions and nonverbal communication);  3) Limitations in developing, maintaining, and understanding relationships (e.g. difficulties adjusting behavior to suit various social contexts; difficulties in making friends; absence of interest in peers);  4) Stereotyped or repetitive motor movements, use of objects, or speech (e.g. self-stimulation behaviors such as arm flapping, flipping objects, echolalia, idiosyncratic phrases);  5) Insistence on sameness, inflexible adherence to routines, ritualized patterns, or verbal nonverbal behavior (e.g.extreme distress at small changes, difficulties with transitions, rigid thinking patterns, greeting rituals, need to take same route every day, need to eat the same food every day); 2015 Implementing Guidelines for Title 5 Regulations 61 6) Highly restricted, fixated interests that are abnormal in intensity or focus(e.g.strong attachment to or preoccupation with unusual objects,excessively circumscribed or perseverative interest); 7) Hyper- or hypo-reactivity to sensory input or unusual interests in sensory aspects of the environment(e.g., apparent in difference to pain/temperature, adverse response to specific sounds or textures,excessive smelling or touching of objects, visual fascination with lights or movement).

-Top of Page

721 Cliff Drive Santa Barbara, CA 93109-2394    Main Campus Phone: 805.965.0581    © 2018 Santa Barbara City College