2.2 Types of impairment

Impairments can be classified into four main groups: physical, sensory, psychosocial and intellectual. Some are present from birth, while others may be acquired later in life as the result of illness, injury or just from getting old. Remember also that some people may be affected by more than one impairment.

Physical impairments

These are conditions that cause difficulties in walking and other movements such as holding or grasping and may affect coordination and the ability to perform physical activities. Several different diseases can affect joints or muscles of the arms or legs such as polio, which causes paralysis. Other conditions affect the nervous system, for example spinal injury, stroke and leprosy. This group also includes loss of limbs.

Sensory impairments

These are impairments that affect sight, hearing or speech.

  • Visual impairments are partial or total loss of the ability to see, and therefore read. Visual impairments can range from low vision, meaning the person has some limited or poor sight, through to total loss of vision.
  • Hearing impairment refers to various degrees of loss of hearing. Mild hearing loss means the person has difficulty with very quiet sounds such as whispering. People with moderate hearing loss find it difficult to join in a normal conversation and severe hearing loss means only loud sounds can be heard.
  • Speech impairments affect the ability to communicate. People with this type of impairment may have difficulty with the production of sound, for example, they may be unable to produce clear and distinct words with their voice or may stammer.

Psychosocial impairments

Psychosocial impairments include many different mental health conditions that affect a person’s behaviour and their ability to function and participate in society. Examples include anxiety, depression, and schizophrenia. This sort of impairment may be acute (episodes that may be severe but are short-lived) or chronic (continuous or lasting a long time).

Intellectual impairments

Intellectual impairments refer to many different types of lifelong limitation that may affect a person’s ability to understand new or complex information, to communicate with other people or to look after themselves. People affected by this sort of impairment may require supervision from someone else to help them with daily activities.

  • Which of these four different types of impairment are most likely to affect inclusion in WASH?

  • Physical impairment affecting a person’s ability to walk would limit access to WASH facilities if there are steps or steep slopes; impairments affecting the hands could prevent someone turning a tap or holding a water container. Visual impairment could make it difficult for someone to walk safely to a facility and use it. Intellectual impairments may make it difficult for someone to understand about good hygiene practices. Other types of impairment may not affect accessibility to services directly but they could all prevent someone from participating in discussions and meetings. Remember from Study Session 1 that inclusion means both access to services and participation in processes.

2.1 What is disability?

2.3 Barriers to inclusion