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National Service and Inclusion Project

Inclusion: The active engagement of people with disabilities as service members in all levels of national and community service

Visit NSIP's sister site The National Service to Employment Project (NextSTEP)


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What Do We Mean by the Term "Disability"?

"Disability" includes a wide range of conditions. A few examples:

Disability impacts people's lives in a wide variety of ways, and the level of impact can range from minimal to extensive

In some cases, a person's disability is a minor inconvenience, something that is controlled through medication, or requires some simple adaptations. In other cases, a person's disability plays a major role in their lives, impacting their ability to earn a living, to participate in activities in the community, and to do many of the things that many non-disabled people take for granted in their daily lives.

Disabilities are often not apparent

Learning disabilities, psychiatric disabilities, epilepsy, and multiple sclerosis are just a few of the many disabilities that are often "hidden". Never presume that someone doesn't have a disability just because it is not readily apparent.

Disability is a natural part of the human existence

There has been a major shift in our society's view of disability. Disability used to be seen as an aberration, something that had to be "fixed" before a person could fully participate in their community. A more progressive view is that disability is simply part of a person's identity, not something to be fixed, and that people with disabilities have the same right as anyone else to full participation in society.

This manual considers only long-term disability

Oftentimes when people are injured (such as a broken leg) they temporarily leave work "on disability" and return when they are fully recovered. However, this manual is not intended to apply to people whose disability is extremely temporary. This material focuses people whose disability has ongoing, possibly life-long, impact.

Legal definitions vary considerably

A person may be considered "disabled" under the Americans with Disabilities Act but not by their state's vocational rehabilitation agency. Also, particular conditions specify the criteria that a person must meet in order to have that condition. For example, not all people who wear glasses have a visual disability. The following are some important legal definitions of "disability":

Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA): a physical or developmental disability that substantially limits one or more of the major life activities of such individual; a record of such an disability; or being regarded as having such an disability.

Social Security: The inability to engage in any substantial gainful activity by reason of any medically determinable physical or mental disabilities which can be expected to result in death or which has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than 12 months.

Rehabilitation Act: The term "individual with a disability" means any individual who:

Under WIA regulations, people with disabilities are defined using the ADA definition. On a practical level, this means that there will be people who utilize One-Stop services who are considered to have a disability, but do not meet the more restrictive definition under the Rehabilitation Act, and therefore are not eligible for services from Vocational Rehabilitation as a One-Stop partner.

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©The National Service Inclusion Project (NSIP) is a training and technical assistance provider on disability inclusion. NSIP partners with the Association on University Centers on Disability, National Council on Independent Living, Association on Higher Education and Disability and National Down Syndrome Congress to build connections between disability organizations and all CNCS grantees, including national directs, to increase the participation of people with disabilities in national service.