What are Sensory Disabilities | Types of Sensory Disabilities


Although any disability whether physical, mental or intellectual would restrict the ability of the affected person to perform daily activities, sensory disabilities tend to be more restrictive as lack of the senses makes it impossible for a person to perceive the world around them.

It is also more difficult for people with sensory disabilities like blindness to get employed, however, they can easily qualify for Social Security programs like Supplemental Security Income (SSI) which pays monthly benefits to the beneficiary.

What are Sensory Disabilities?

Sensory Disabilities refers to impairment of the senses and they affect how a person senses and interacts with the world. The most common types of sensory disabilities are easily considered for social benefits in most countries including the US. Sensory disabilities can be acquired through accidents, head trauma, and brute force on the sense organ (ear or eyes). Genetic and biological factors would also lead to some types of sensory disabilities.

Types of Sensory Disabilities

Autism Spectrum Disorder

Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) affects the communication and behavior of the individual.

Symptoms of this developmental disorder usually appear in the early years of life. People with this disorder have difficulty n communicating and interacting with others, they also have limited interests and repeat behavior.

They usually have a poor social life as the disorder affects their ability to form social relationships and limit their ability to function properly in many areas of life.

Autism varies in severity with some people having mild to moderate symptoms of the disorder and others having severe symptoms of the disorder. 

Symptoms of autism include

  • Communication and interaction behaviors like making little contact, tending not to listen to people, rarely sharing enjoyment of activities and objects with others, slow response to calls and questions, having difficulty keeping up with conversation, making facial expressions and movements that do not match the subject of the conversation, and being unable to understand other people’s actions
  • Restrictive and repetitive behaviors like repeating words or phrases, having prolonged interest in topics related to numbers or facts, being overly fascinated with moving objects or parts of objects, and less sensitive to reactions to sensory input.
  • Sleep problems are also evident in people with autism (depending on the severity of the disorder, sleep problems would lead to several types of sleep disorders)
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Although the exact cause of the disorder is unknown, research suggests that genetics could be a risk factor for autism.

Autism is a development disorder, so environmental factors that affect the development of the child at an early stage could lead to autism, however, it is yet to be confirmed why some people develop ASD due to challenging environmental factors and others don’t.

Siblings with Autism disorder or born of older parents are considered to be at high risk. Other risk factors include genetic conditions like Rett syndrome, fragile X syndrome, and Down syndrome. Autism is known to affect boys more than girls due to factors that are unknown.

Although the disorder can’t be cured, medication can help to suppress the symptoms associated with the disorder and allow the affected persons to live normal lives.


Blindness is a type of sensory disability that affects the eyes. There are various kinds of blindness or vision loss with some being severe and limiting a person’s ability to carry out daily activities.

Blindness itself is the state of being totally sightless or complete vision loss in one or both eyes. There are several types of blindness which include

  • Color blindness: This is the inability to perceive differences in colors that other people can distinguish. This is not considered to be true blindness as people with the condition  can function well and go about their daily activities without limitation
  • Night blindness: People with this condition are unable to see in low levels of light, however, they do function well under normal lightning. The condition could be genetic or acquire but it is not considered to be true blindness.
  • Snow blindness: Snow blindness is due to exposure to large amounts of ultraviolet lights which leads to temporary loss of vision in the eyes. Just like the others, it is not considered to be true blindness.

Blindness is caused by several factors which include infectious diseases, injury and hereditary diseases.

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Other causes of blindness include traumatic injuries, glaucoma, infections of the cornea or retina, diabetes, muscular degeneration, vitamin A deficiency, stroke, retinitis pigmentosa, ocular inflammatory diseases, congenital abnormalities. Genetic factors like hereditary eye diseases can also lead to blindness.

Risk factors for blindness include cardiovascular disease, poor hygiene, smoking, family history of blindness and advancing age.

Legally blind is a term used to distinguish individuals who are physically impaired and qualified for governmental benefits from those that are not. Individuals with visual acuity of 20/200 are considered to be legally blind, however, if you are completely blind in one eye while the other is normal you wouldn’t be considered to be legally blind.

Legally blind means that someone can see clearly at 20 feet what the average person can see at 200 feet. Failing vision in your better eye while wearing correct glasses can also qualify as legally blind.

Hearing Loss and Deafness

Losing one’s ability to distinguish sounds partially or completely is called deafness. Someone is said to have hearing loss if they have hearing thresholds lower than 25 dB.

The severity of the condition varies and could be extremely severe that the individual wouldn’t be able to hear conversational speech or mild in a way that the individual wouldn’t be able to hear some select sounds.

There are different types of hearing loss namely – conductive hearing loss, mixed hearing loss, and sensorineural hearing loss. Each type is based on the reason for the loss of hearing in the individual.

There are various factors that cause hearing loss with many of them being preventable, however, some could be due to genetic factors.

The common causes of deafness or hearing loss include damage to the inner ear, excess buildup of earwax, ear infection, ruptured eardrum. Risk factors like aging, hereditary, exposure in loud noises in recreational or occupational settings, and some medications could lead to hearing loss.

Although hearing loss and deafness relates to the inability to make out sounds, they do not entirely mean the same thing.

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Hearing loss refers to the reduced ability to hear sounds as clearly as other people with normal hearing do while deafness is the complete inability to hear sounds. Profound deafness is a total loss of hearing capability.

People with hearing problems can use devices like hearing aids and cochlear implants to improve their hearing.

Sensory Processing Disorder

Sensory processing disorder is a neurological disorder that is characterized by the inability of the brain to processing information that comes in through the senses thus the individual perceives results in abnormal responses.

People with this disorder perceive information of the senses like touch sound and movement differently and sometimes wrongly which could make them become oversensitive to things in their environment.

They are usually disorganized and unable to engage in conversations with others. This disorder is not considered as a stand-alone disorder as it is accompanied by other developmental conditions like autism spectrum disorder. Thus, it could be a symptom of the condition rather than a disorder on its own.

People with sensory processing disorder can either be oversensitive (hypersensitive) or undersensitive (hyposensitive) but there have been many cases of people who experience the two types of sensory processing disorder.

Symptoms of the disorder vary and will depend on which of the senses that were affected. The most common symptom is the oversensitivity or undersensitivity to sounds, light, touch, and smells.

The exact cause of sensory processing disorder is unknown, however, it is believed that genetics could play a role. Sensory integration and sensory processing therapy are treatments that would help people with this disorder.

More on Sensory Disabilities

Sensory disabilities are related to other developmental disabilities that affect the intellect and mental state of a person. Injury and accidents which could result in physical disabilities can also cause sensory disabilities.

Although getting employed is tougher for people with sensory disabilities especially if you are blind, that doesn’t mean it would be impossible to get work or run your own business. Several notable figures like Stevie Wonder, have been able to achieve their dreams even though they have were born with or acquired one type of sensory disability or the other.


There are several aids like assistance dogs for the blind and hearing aids for the deaf that were specifically made for people with sensory disabilities. These aids should make life easier for people with sensory disabilities.

You can speak with your doctor on the best aids that would it easier for you to get by the daily activities or you can go for the most popular options that would suit your type of sensory disability. For hearing aids, you could opt for behind the ear type of hearing aids as they are the most effective and popular types of hearing aids.

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