Disability: what types of disabilities are there?

Pia Kotzur has been working as an editor at NetMoms since 2010 and has since been able to gain a lot of experience on what moves mothers in everyday life. After completing her studies in gender research and cultural studies, she delved into the cosmos of parent and family issues and now heads the NetMoms editorial team. Even part of a great (and sometimes challenging) patchwork family, they are particularly interested in unconventional family models. Her creed: If it feels right, then it is also good.

About every tenth person in Germany has a disability, around a quarter of whom are children and adolescents. But what types of disabilities are there? Find out what types of disabilities there are.

In this article

How many people have disabilities?

According to data from the Federal Statistical Office from 2011, 7.3 million people in Germany have a severely disabled status. This corresponds to a population share of 8.9 percent. The results also made it clear that older people were more likely to have disabilities than younger people people:

  • 29.2 percent were older than 75 years
  • 45.8 percent were between 55 and 75 years old
  • 4 percent were under 25 years old

Disabilities can be of very different types and origins. They are also not easy to differentiate. In some cases, multiple disabilities may exist at the same time. Others cause further impairments. Basically, disabilities are classified into the following categories:

Types of disability

  • Physical disability: When a person is severely physically restricted, one speaks of a physical disability. This limitation is due to damage or dysfunction of the support and movement organs. Polio is the most common physical disability children.
  • Mental disability: If there is an ongoing, significantly above-average limitation of cognitive skills, one speaks of a mental handicap. Cognitive skills include perception, attention, thinking and learning, as well as memory, motivation and concentration. Mental disabilities such as Down syndrome are among the most common types of impairment after physical handicaps.
  • Sensory disabilities: The sensory disability serves as a generic term for all hearing and visual impairments, such as hearing loss, deafness, blindness, ametropia and deaf-blindness.
  • Speech impediment: The language disability serves as a generic term for disorders of language acquisition, voice, speaking and the flow of speech. Speech-impaired people can usually not use their mother tongue in sound and / or writing in an age-appropriate manner.
  • Mental disability: Psychological or emotional disabilities are used to summarize deviations in behavior and experience. However, one speaks mostly of mental illnesses, which influence the thinking, feeling and acting of a person. A well-known mental illness in children is, for example, ADHD.
  • Learning disability: A learning disability is a permanent and extensive learning disability. It is difficult to say about the frequency of learning disabilities to meet, as they are not recorded as such in the disability statistics.

Cause of disability

A disability can also be classified according to its cause, depending on whether it is congenital or after birth. Congenital disabilities are either chromosomal, inherited, or prenatal before birth. Disabilities, on the other hand, which only arise after birth, can arise from the birth process, illness, physical damage or the aging process. According to the Federal Statistical Office, the disabilities were caused by the following:

  • At 83.4 percent due to an illness
  • In 4.1 percent, the disability was congenital or occurred in the first year of life
  • At 1.9 percent due to an accident or an occupational disease
  • At 0.6 percent due to damage in war, military service or community service


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