Glossary of Disability Related Terms


Descriptor of a site, facility, service, program, or activity that is easy for a person with a disability to approach, enter, operate, participate in, and/or use safely and with dignity, with or without accommodations or auxiliary aids. 


An alteration of environment, curriculum format, or equipment that allows an individual with a disability to gain access to content and/or complete assigned tasks. Accommodations allow students with disabilities to pursue a regular course of study. They do not alter what is being taught; instructors should be able to implement the same grading scale for students with disabilities as they do for students without disabilities. 

Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Americans with Disabilities Amendment Act (ADAAA) of 2008:

A comprehensive federal law that gives civil rights protection to individuals with disabilities similar to that provided to individuals on the basis of race, color, sex, national origin, age, and religion. It guarantees equal opportunity for and prohibits discrimination against individuals with disabilities in employment, state and local government services and activities, public accommodations, transportation, and telecommunications. 

Assessment: A broad term used to describe the tests or other strategies used to measure ability, achievement, or mastery in a particular area against a set of standards or against others’ performance. Assessment also refers to the data and information gathered to ascertain a student’s disability and to recommend accommodations and services. 

Assistive Technology:

Technology used by individuals with disabilities in order to perform functions that might otherwise be difficult or impossible. Assistive technology can include mobility devices such as walkers and wheelchairs, as well as hardware, software, and peripherals that assist students with disabilities in accessing computers or other information technologies. 

Auxiliary Aids and Services:

A wide range of services and devices that must be provided to individuals with disabilities so that they can have an equal opportunity to participate in or benefit from an institution’s programs and services, unless an undue burden on a program or service would result.

[Central] Auditory Processing Disorder ([C] APD):

A neurological syndrome that affects how the brain processes spoken language. There is a breakdown in receiving, remembering, understanding, and using auditory information, making it difficult for the student to process verbal instructions or to filter out background noise in the classroom. 


The ability to translate a word from print to speech, usually by employing knowledge of sound-symbol correspondences. It is also the act of deciphering a new word by sounding it out. 


A physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more of the major life activities of an individual as compared to most students in the general population, a record of such an impairment, or being regarded as having such an impairment. 


Difficulty understanding and using math symbols and concepts. 


Difficulty with the physical task of forming letters and words using a pen and paper and difficulty producing legible handwriting. 


Difficulty decoding or processing words and/or numbers. It may also be referred to as reading disability, reading difference, or reading disorder. 


A marked difficulty in remembering names or recalling words needed for oral or written language. 


A developmental impairment of, or difficulties with, the organization, planning, and execution of physical movement. 

Expressive Language:

The aspect of spoken language that includes speaking and the aspect of written language that includes composing or writing. 

Family Educational Right to Privacy Act (FERPA):

A federal law that protects the privacy of student education records. The rights of parents with respect to their children’s education records at elementary and secondary school levels are transferred to the student when they reach the age of 18 or attends a postsecondary institution at any age. 


An injury, illness, or congenital condition that causes or is likely to cause a loss or difference of physiological or psychological function. 

Nonverbal Learning Disability:

A neurological disorder that is characterized by below-average motor coordination, visual-spatial organization, and social skills against a background of relatively intact verbal abilities. 

Qualified Individual with Disability:

At the postsecondary educational level, a qualified student with a disability is an individual who, with or without reasonable accommodation, meets the academic and technical standards required for participation in the class, program, or activity. The standards for a student with a disability are the same as those for all students entering the program or activity. 

Reading Disability:

Another term for Dyslexia, sometimes referred to as reading disorder or reading difference. 

Reasonable vs. Unreasonable Accommodations:

Reasonable accommodations are modifications to academic requirements that are necessary to ensure that such requirements do not discriminate, or have the effect of discriminating, on the basis of disability against a qualified applicant or student with a disability. Accommodations are not considered reasonable if making the accommodation or allowing participation poses a direct threat to the health or safety of others, requires a substantial change in an essential element of the curriculum, and/or imposes an undue financial or administrative burden. 


The development of specific skills that enable students to take a proactive role in the management of their college experience. Self-advocacy has been linked to improving student persistence and to retention in postsecondary education. 

Temporary Impairment vs. Disability:

The ADA states that “impairments that are transitory and minor” are not given protection under the act; a transitory impairment is defined as impairment with an “actual or expected duration of 6 months or less.” Temporary, non- chronic impairments, such as common colds, influenza, and most broken bones and sprains, that are short-lived and that have little or no long-term impact on functionality usually are not disabilities. However, a temporary condition that substantially limits a major life activity, such as temporary paralysis, may be considered a temporary disability. The determination as to the status of an impairment is made on a case-by-case basis. NDSU policy treats pregnancy, childbirth, false pregnancy, termination of pregnancy, or recovery therefrom as a temporary disability, which is subject to civil rights protection. 

Universal Design for Learning (UDL), also known as Universal Design for Instruction (UDI):

A set of principles for the design of class curricula that give all students equal opportunities to learn. UDL takes account of the potential broad ranges among students with respect to ability, disability, age, reading level, learning style, native language, race, ethnicity, and other characteristics. 

Visible vs. Invisible Disability:

A visual disability is a disability that is readily noticeable to others. Visible disabilities include, but are not limited to, amputations, paralysis, lack of physical coordination, or other mobility impairment; speech impediments; vision impairments; and some cognitive impairment. Visible disabilities are what most people think of when they think of disabilities. Invisible or hidden disabilities are not easily noticed and may include such examples as learning disabilities, ADD/ADHD, Autism Spectrum Disorders, psychiatric impairments, hearing impairments, low vision, and chronic medical conditions. Individuals with invisible disabilities constantly make decisions about whether to disclose their disability or to “pass” as non- disabled. 

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