Disability Jargon


AAC: Augmentative and Alternative Communication

Children with severe or complex communication needs, oftentimes the result of various types of disabilities, e.g. cerebral palsy, autism, intellectual and developmental disabilities, sometimes utilize various types of communication boards or devices that can augment or enhance their abilities to communicate.  These can take a variety of forms and oftentimes require working with an AAC specialist, who is usually a speech and language pathologist with additional types of training.

ADD/ADHD: Attention-Deficit Disorder or Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder.
This disorder is currently undergoing major policy evaluation fueled by parents and professionals who feel it should stand alone as a separate disability category, and not be subsumed under other types of disabilities (e.g. SLD, SED, etc.). The IDEA is supporting major research and evaluation efforts currently to understand the issues involved. There is no professional consensus regarding an appropriate definition for this disorder, nor are there uniformly agreed-to diagnostic criteria for either a medical or educational diagnosis of ADD. However, it is becoming a frequent label for children with such symptoms as: inattentiveness, disorganization, impulsivity, with hyperactivity present, but not always.
A hereditary condition characterized by a variable lack of pigment in the eyes, skin, or hair. People with albinism may have pale pink skin and blond to white hair, but there are different types of albinism, and the amount of pigment varies. The irises of their eyes may be white or pinkish. They are sensitive to bright light and glare and commonly have other vision problems. While some people with albinism can see well enough to drive, many have impaired vision or may even be legally blind.
ASD: Autism Spectrum Disorders.
This has become a "catch-all" phrase for referring to a range of disorders that are characterized by varying degrees of impairment in communication skills, social interactions, and restricted, repetitive and stereotyped patterns of behavior. Dr. Leo Kanner in 1943 first introduced the term early infantile autism into the psychological and medical fields. Since that time work has been done to further understand the varieties of behaviors which present in a child (more often in boys than girls) from the more classic and severe autistic behaviors, to more milder cases such as Asperger Syndrome; or otherwise non-specified instances, often referred to as pervasive developmental disorders (PDD). Autism spectrum disorders is now used to represent conditions that could fall within this range of behaviors.
ASL: American Sign Language
ASL is a language whose medium is visible rather than aural. It is the preferred method of communication for many individuals who are deaf. Like any other language, ASL has its own vocabulary, idioms, grammar and syntax, which is different from English or "Signed English", and differs from country to country, and can be different across regions, given idiosyncratic, cultural issues found in each region. A combination of "Signed English" and SDL can also be found, and is referred to as "Pidgin Sign English" (PSE), which combines elements of both.
Asperger Syndrome
This is one of the more mild disorders that is found on the autism spectrum. In people with Asperger's Syndrome, deficits in social interaction and unusual responses to the environment, similar to those in autism, are observed. Unlike in more classic autism, however, cognitive and communicative development is within the normal or near-normal range, and verbal skills are usually an area of relative strength. Idiosyncratic interests can be common and may take the form of unusual interests (e.g., in train schedules, snakes, the weather, deep-fry cookers, or telegraph pole insulators, etc.). This condition also can overlap, in part, with some forms of learning disability, as there are clear types of processing problems. Terminology and diagnosis in this area continues to be complicated and confusing for all concerned.
The process of testing/observing a child in order to understand his/her unique characteristics (personality, learning style, abilities, etc.) to help make decisions about the type of educational programming or supports needed by the child.
At Risk
A term used to describe children who have, or could have, problems with development that may affect later learning.


There is often a belief that a person who is blind has absolutely no sight. That is not true. In fact, most persons who are blind may have some remaining vision. A person is considered "legally blind" and is eligible for benefits or special education services when their best corrected visual acuity is 20/200 or the person?s visual field is 20 degrees or less. The American Optometric Association describes this legal blindness "when a person has to be as close as 20 feet to identify objects that people with normal vision can spot from 200 feet".


CART: Communication Access Realtime Translation.
Communication Access Realtime Translation. CART is the instant translation of the spoken word into English text using a stenotype machine, notebook computer and realtime software. The text appears on a computer monitor or other display. This technology is primarily used by people who are late-deafened, oral deaf, hard-of-hearing, or have cochlear implants. Culturally deaf individuals also make use of CART in certain situations. Please keep in mind that CART is also often referred to as realtime captioning. The Americans with Disabilities Act specifically recognized CART as an assistive technology which affords "effective communication access." Thus communication access more aptly describes a CART provider's role and distinguishes CART from realtime reporting in a traditional litigation setting. This is becoming a very popular way to provide access and needs standardization.
Case Management
Coordinating services for a family and ensuring that individual family service plans (IFSPs) are written and carried out. (This is currently often referred to as "service coordination".) Activities carried out by a case manager may include assistance to families or individuals to gain access to appropriate services.
CDI: Certified Deaf Interpreter
This is an individual who is deaf or hard of hearing in addition to having proficient communication skills, general interpreter training, and specialized training and/or experience in the use of gesture, mime, props, drawings and other tools to enhance communication. This person also has knowledge and understanding of deafness, the Deaf community, and Deaf culture with native or near-native fluency in American Sign Language. Use of a CDI may be when the communication mode of a deaf consumer is so unique that interpreters who are hearing cannot adequately access it. Situations that might require this involve individuals who use idiosyncratic non-standard signs or gestures; use a foreign sign language; have limited or minimal communication skills; or are deaf-blind, etc. It is a very specialized area of interpreting with a very limited number of qualified professionals available throughout the country.
CEC: Council for Exceptional Children
The CEC is the largest international professional organization dedicated to improving educational outcomes for individuals with exceptionalities, students with disabilities, and/or the gifted. CEC advocates for appropriate governmental policies, sets professional standards, provides continual professional development, advocates for newly and historically underserved individuals with exceptionalities, and helps professionals obtain certifications and resources necessary for effective professional practice. If in doubt related to information about children with disabilities, contact CEC and their local chapters.
Community Based Programs
Programs for individuals with disabilities that are located within the individuals own community. Many school programs work to include community based activities in order to assist in appropriate transition after school. (e.g. Learning to order food at a fast food restaurant might address goals such as reading, using money, communication, and social interactions.)
CP: Cerebral Palsy
This group of disabling conditions caused by damage to the central nervous system. "Cerebral" refers to the brain, while "palsy" describes the lack of muscle control that is often (but not always) a nervous system symptom. CP can be mild or severe, and can occur before or during birth, or as a result of various factors, including accident, illness, or child abuse.
CSE: Committee on Special Education
All states have various types of review committees that evaluate programs for individual students. Within New York State, for example, these groups are called Committees on Special Education. This terminology can often be found in reports which outline the various tests or placements for a child with a disability.


DD: Developmental Disabilities
This term is often used by the public synonymously with mental retardation. This usage is incorrect, because DD includes an array of disabilities and is defined as: substantial limitations which occur in three or more of the following areas: self-care, self-direction, economic self-sufficiency, independent living, learning, receptive and expressive language and mobility. These limitations must also be: severe/long lasting, occur before the age of 22 years, and require the individual to need various services. As a result, types of disabilities covered under this label could include individuals with MR, but also individuals who have spina bifida, multiple impairments, but are not MR.
Deaf Culture
Deaf people as a linguistic minority have a common experience of life including beliefs, attitudes, history, norms, values, literary traditions, and art shared by Deaf people...thus called oftentimes a "Deaf Culture". A person is a member of the Deaf community if he or she self-identifies as a member of the Deaf community (i.e. with or without hearing, e.g. family members, etc.), and if other members accept that person as a member. Very often this acceptance is strongly linked to competence in a signed language.
When one hears this word mentioned, it is oftentimes assumed that this is a specific type of augmentative communication device. More accurately, it refers to one of the leading manufacturers of augmentative and alternative communication devices, DynaVox Systems and Technologies. The DynaVox brand makes various types of keyboard-based, speech-output communication devices that are used by persons with speech, learning, and physical disabilities. The company also develops text-to-speech software. Some of its well-known products include the DynaVox, DynaMyte and Dynamo. There are many companies involved in the production of augmentative and alternative communication devices with DynaVox being one of them.


Early Intervention
Early Intervention involves providing medical and educational services at an early age especially in areas such as physical therapy, occupational therapy and speech therapy. Often these services are provided in a parent's home or are center based, such as in a community health center. These services receive federal funding in most cases.
Able to qualify; meeting certain requirements.
ESE: Exceptional Student Education
This is a common term in the state of Florida and others referring to the provision of programs and a free appropriate public education for students with disabilities and gifted students in the least restrictive environment. School districts provide ESE services to students in Pre-kindergarten through 12th grade based on the individual needs of the child. School districts also have the option of serving children from birth who meet the disability criteria for participation. Students aged 3-21 who have a disability and gifted students in grades K-12 are eligible for ESE services.
The process used to determine a child's eligibility for services; the process of collecting and interpreting information about a child. An evaluation consists of a variety of tests, observations and background information, and is done by a group of qualified professionals often referred to as a "multidisciplinary team".
Removing or excluding a student with disabilities from school programs or activities (e.g., the denial of recess, use of time out, removal from classroom, etc.). These types of policies and procedures are closely monitored in order to prevent abuse and discrimination on many levels.


Family Centered
Services designed to include the family as decision makers and to ensure that the full range of needs expressed by a family are considered.
FAPE: Free Appropriate Public Education
FAPE is another consequence of the 1975 legislation which mandates that special education and/or related services be provided at the public expense, within guidelines set by the IEP, and meeting the standards of each State's Educational Agency. Again, the term "appropriate" indicates a critical factor that must be evaluated within this concept.
F/C: Facilitative Communication
This (FC) is a method of providing physical and emotional support to a person so that he/she can communicate through the use of the printed word. It was developed for people who are non-verbal, or who are limited and delayed in their expressive ability. Rosemary Crossley, an Australian educator, is the originator of this method. It has engendered much controversy in the field, as it challenges the theories and communication/literacy capabilities of individuals who have been labeled autistic, severely handicapped or without communication capabilities. There are many resources available that should be consulted given the current issues surrounding this method.


IDEA: Individuals with Disabilities Education Act
This is the reauthorization of the major educational legislation, P.L. 94-12, the Education for All handicapped Children Act, which was enacted in 1975. IDEA continues to guarantee and outlines procedures for all aspects of educational programming for children with disabilities set forth in 1975. It is a critical piece of legislation because it also introduces a number of significant elements that have extended definitions of service, or introduced new requirements for states in a number of different areas. Among the key changes in IDEA are; change in language to "people first", i.e. individuals with disabilities; eligibility of autism and TBI as separate disability categories; inclusion of assistive technology devices and services within educational programs; new mandates for transition goals within IEPS by the age of 16 years; an additional clarification of related services including those for preschool age. Further information can be obtained form resources listed in this resource.
IEP: Individualized Education Program
The IEP was one of the major hallmarks of the initial 1975 education legislation. It guarantees that a document will be developed, in collaboration with school personnel and parents, which outlines clearly a child's abilities and needs with specific placement and services that are to be provided. There are mandated procedural guidelines related to progress and evaluation, with due process alternatives that can be instituted should the IEP be violated or disagreements arise between families and schools. The IEP is a powerful tool which continues to ensure quality education and protection for children with special needs.
IFSP: Individualized Family Service Plan
This is a specific component of Public Law 99-457, which established a national policy on early intervention for serving young children with special needs and their families (i.e. birth-3 yrs and then beginning transition services beyond the age of 3). Similar, although not as legally powerful as the IEP, the IFSP contains a minimum of seven components to guide planning and implementation of comprehensive services to young children and their families. The goal of the IFSP is to outline for families and service providers the needed evaluation, educational and related support services that will enhance not only individual, but family functioning as well. The degree to which the IFSP is fully implemented is highly dependent on the state of legislation implementation for young children that exists in each community at this point in time, with this area of service increasing each year.
This is a current goal in educational and service programming which supports the inclusion of all children, regardless of their disabilities, in the regular education classes and community services. Inclusion means that support services go with the child into the mainstream, rather than separating the child from the community of his/her peers or neighborhood.
Intellectual & Developmental Disabilities. (aka Mental Retardation)
On January 1, 2007 a well known and influential professional journal (Mental Retardation) changed its name to Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities. This change reflects the U.S. current trend to try and use "jargon" that is less offending and demeaning to persons with disabilities and their families. This change is trying to support a more positive societal image of persons with cognitive impairments since mental retardation has evolved into a sometimes very abusive and insulting term for many individuals.


LD/SLD: Learning Disability/Specific Learning Disability
These terms tend to be used interchangeably to refer to: "those children who have a disorder in one or more of the basic psychological processes involved in understanding or in using language, spoken or written, which disorder may manifest itself in imperfect ability to listen, think, speak, read, write, spell, or do mathematical calculations. Such disorders include perceptual handicaps, brain injury, minimal brain dysfunction, dyslexia, and developmental aphasia" (IDEA). It is a specific disability which involves a psychological processing problem which can be determined through various multidisciplinary types of evaluation.
LRE: Least Restrictive Environment
This term is also one of the hallmarks of the 1975 legislation which guarantees that "each child with a disability must be educated in the least restrictive environment appropriate to meet his or her needs." LRE has fueled debates across the country for years, and continues today, as professionals, families and consumers struggle with its practical implications to meet individual needs. Caution is warranted in using LRE synonymously with "mainstreaming" i.e. placement of children with disabilities in regular education classrooms.


MR: Mental Retardation (aka Intellectual & Developmental Disability)
This is a general term which is defined within IDEA as "significantly subaverage general intellectual functioning existing concurrently with deficits in adaptive behavior, and manifested during the developmental period that adversely affects a child's educational performance." Individuals with MR comprise an array of functioning levels which needed to be understood nor only in terms of formal IQ testing, but related to environmental and situational context as well. Many organizations exist which provide resources and information to learn more about this disability. 1993 will also bring the publication by professional groups of revised definitions of MR that need to be reviewed an evaluated, and may have additional implications in many areas.


OHI: Other Health Impaired
This is a category of disability which is protected under the IDEA which refers to individuals who "have limited strength, vitality or alertness, due to chronic or acute health problems such as a heart condition, tuberculosis, rheumatic fever, nephritis, asthma, sickle cell anemia hemophilia, epilepsy, lead poisoning, leukemia, or diabetes that adversely affect a child's educational performance". Please note the term "adversely affects educational performance" as the critical issue here for providing special education.
OT: Occupational Therapy
Occupational therapy for many students with disabilities is a recommended and related educational service that is mandated by the IEP. Services are provided in schools, either within (push-in) or outside of their classrooms (pull-out) on a regular basis each (e.g. two to three times a week for "x" number of minutes). The purpose of these services is to improve, develop or restore functioning, especially related to activities of daily living, perceptual motor and sensory integration, enhancement of muscle or range of motion, all within an educational context. (Proper positioning or adaptations for computers or writing is a typical example of a critical educational activity that might require OT assistance.) Therapists would work individually, in small groups or in consultation with other educational professionals.


PDD: Pervasive Developmental Disorder
In the diagnostic manual used to classify disabilities, the DSM-IV (American Psychiatric Association, 2000), "autistic disorder" is listed as a category under the heading of "Pervasive Developmental Disorders." A diagnosis of autistic disorder is made when an individual displays 6 or more of 12 symptoms listed across three major areas: social interaction, communication, and behavior. When children display similar behaviors but do not meet the criteria for autistic disorder, they may receive a diagnosis of Pervasive Developmental Disorder-NOS (PDD not otherwise specified). Oftentimes, these individuals are just referred to as having PDD. Again, deficits in peer relations and unusual sensitivities are typically noted, with social skills less impaired than in classical autism. Because of the lack of specific guidelines for this diagnosis, one can also find them classified as learning disabled as well.
Person First Language
Like ethnicity, gender, and other traits a disability is just one of many natural characteristics of being human. If people with disabilities are to be included in all aspects of society, and if they're to be respected and valued as fellow citizens, there is a need to stop using language that sets them apart and can devalue them. The "person/people first movement" is based on this philosophy, i.e. Boys and girls with disabilities are children, first. Men and women with disabilities are adults, first. Therefore, appropriate ways to refer to children might be the child with autism; not the autistic child; the child with a disability, not the disabled child. Changing one's habit to reflect this philosophy takes some important work.
PT: Physical Therapy
Some students with disabilities may receive both medically based PT and educationally based PT that is mandated in their IEP. A student may have a diagnosis of muscular dystrophy and could benefit from PT, but his educational functioning does not require that service as a related service. Areas addressed in a PT related activity could include gross motor development skills, orthopedic concerns, mobility, adaptive equipment, positioning, etc. In most instances, physical therapists might provide their services in schools, but outside the classroom (pull-outs); but more work is being done to try and push-in even these supports into the classroom.


SED: Serious Emotional Disturbance
This is the formal term that is used to provide appropriate services to individuals who may have previously been called "emotionally disturbed". According to IDEA definitions, it does also include children who are schizophrenic, BUT dues not include those who are "socially maladjusted", unless they have a SED. The term SED means "a condition exhibiting one or more of the following characteristics over a long period of time, and to a marked degree, that adversely affects a child's educational performance: (a) an inability to learn that cannot be explained by intellectual, sensory, or health factors; (b) an inability to build or maintain satisfactory interpersonal relationships with peers and teachers; (c) inappropriate types of behavior or feelings under normal circumstances; (d) a general pervasive mood of unhappiness or depression; (e) a tendency to develop physical symptoms or fears associated with personal or school problems."
Self-contained classroom
When a student with a disability is not able to receive meaningful and appropriate instruction in the general education classroom, the IEP committee may decide on alternative types of placement within that school or in other locations. One of the possible settings is a self-contained classroom that is for specific types of students with disabilities who spend all or the largest portion of the school day in this setting. This type of classroom is characterized by a smaller student-teacher ratio that allows for more individualized attention and curriculum adaptation support. This class placement could be for full academic and non-academic instruction (e.g. physical education, art, etc.) or some combination.
Wireless text communication has become a basic necessity in the deaf community. Through handheld communication devices, deaf and hard of hearing people are exchanging e-mail, instant messages and communicating in emergencies. More and more companies are offering wireless communication services with alphanumeric messaging or paging. One of the popular ones is Sidekick, which has a service contract through T-Mobile.


TBI: Traumatic Brain Injury
TBI has just recently (1992) been added to the separate list of disabilities covered by the IDEA. It is defined within the regulations a "an acquired injury to the brain caused by an external physical force, resulting in total or partial functional disability of psychosocial impairment, or both, that adversely affects a child's educational performance" (IDEA). This term does not include brain injuries that are congenital/degenerative or the result of infection or disease.
TC: Total Communication
TC is a philosophy which implies acceptance and use of all possible methods of communication (i.e. sign language and speech, etc.) to assist the child who is deaf acquire language and understanding. Historically, and currently, proponents of particular systems of communication have been at odds with each other regarding what may work best. The goal of TC was to support whatever combination of systems worked best for each individual in order to communicate effectively.
TDD/TTY/TT: Telecommunications Devices for Deaf People (TDD); Teletypewriter Machines (TTY);Tex Telephone (TT)
All of these terms can be found in use today which refer to the mechanical/electronic devices which enable people to type phone messages over the telephone network. The term TDD is generic and "theoretically" replaced the earlier term TTY. However, many individuals who are deaf still prefer to use TTY. TDD seems to be the term of choice for many organizations, with TT a brand new term trying to "break into" this jargon arena as being the better description for these devices. Whether it succeeds in the years ahead to replace TDD/TTY, is still undetermined at this point.
Tech Talk
This is a very popular augmentative communication device that uses "real-voice" technology, is easy to record and playback, lightweight and portable. It operates using four AA batteries. However, don't be fooled by its simplicity as it retails for approximately $400 and is manufactured by AMDI.


VI: Visual Impairment
This is an all inclusive term which according to IDEA means "an impairment in vision that, even with correction, adversely affects a child's educational performance". The term includes both partial sight and total blindness.
VRI: Video Remote Interpreting
VRI uses video-conferencing equipment to provide sign language interpreting services. With VRI, both the deaf and hearing person are in the same room. The interpreter is at a call center in another city. VRI is especially useful for rural areas where there may be a lack of qualified interpreters.