Disability Categories

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) requires public schools to provide special education and related services to eligible students. To be covered, a child’s school performance must be adversely affected by a disability in one of the following categories:




Developmental Delay

Emotional Disturbance

Hearing Impairment

Intellectual Disability

Multiple Disabilities

Orthopedic Impairment

Other Health Impairment

Specific Learning Disability

Speech or Language Impairment

Traumatic Brain Injury

Visual Impairment Including Blindness

Guidance Manuals for Educators of English Learners with Disabilities: Ideas and Lessons
This report describes ideas and lessons learned from leaders in four states, a statewide association, and a school district, all of which have developed guidance manuals. These ideas and lessons will assist leaders who are creating or are in the process of revising procedures and policies of their own.
Author: Elizabeth Burr
Publication Date: April 2019
Publisher: National Center on Educational Outcomes

Instructional Accommodations
This webpage provides detailed information for accommodations in presentation, response, timing/scheduling setting, assessment, including students in the decision-making process, documentation on IEPs and 504 plans, and more.
Author: Sandra Thompson
Publisher: National Center on Educational Outcomes, University of Kansas

Parent and Educator Resource Guide to Section 504 in Public Elementary and Secondary Schools
To facilitate efforts to eliminate discrimination against students with disabilities, OCR offers this resource guide to provide answers to questions that OCR has received and increase understanding among parents and members of the school community of the Federal civil rights laws that protect students with disabilities in public schools, and in particular, Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (Section 504).
Publication Date: December 2016
Publisher: U.S. Department of Education Office for Civil Rights

School Accommodation Ideas for Students Who Receive Section 504 or Special Education Services
This is a list of possible accommodations for textbooks and curriculum, classroom environment, instructions and assignments, time and making transitions, handwriting, grading, tests, math, behavior, and more.
Publication Date: 2018
Publisher: PACER Center

School Modification Ideas for Students Who Receive Special Education Services
This is a list of possible modifications for books, math, assignments, tests, grading, behavior, and discipline to assist an IEP team in identifying the best adjustment for each individual student.
Publication Date: 2019
Publisher: PACER Center

School Practices and Accountability for Students With Disabilities
This study presents descriptive findings on school practices for elementary and middle schools explicitly held accountable for the performance of the students with disabilities subgroup.
Authors: Jenifer Harr-Robins, Mengli Song, Michael Garet, and Louis Danielson
Publication Date: January 2015
Publisher: U.S. Department of Education

Students with Disabilities
In 2019–20, the number of students ages 3–21 who received special education services under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) was 7.3 million, or 14 percent of all public school students. Among students receiving special education services, the most common category of disability (33 percent) was specific learning disabilities.
Publication Date: May 2021
Publisher: Institute of Education Sciences

Supporting Students with High-Incidence Disabilities in U.S. Schools National Findings from the American Educator Panels
This report explores the extent to which supports are available to general and special educators, based on the results of the Measurement, Learning, and Improvement Survey to the RAND American Teacher Panel, a survey administered to a nationally representative sample of teachers.
Authors: Laura Stelitano, Rachel Perera, and William R. Johnston
Publication Date: 2019
Publisher: RAND Corporation

The Identification of Specific Learning Disabilities: A Summary of Research on Best Practices
This report summarizes research on the identification of SLD and makes recommendations for practice. It begins with a summary of the legal requirements for SLD identification and what constitutes a comprehensive evaluation. It then discusses the attributes of SLD according to different conceptual frameworks and reviews research on the reliability and validity of different methods for SLD identification that emanate from these frameworks. The report concludes with recommendations for best practice, regardless of the specific identification methods employed.
Authors: Jack M. Fletcher and Jeremy Miciak
Publication Date: 2019
Publisher: Meadows Center for Preventing Educational Risk

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act: A Comparison of State Eligibility Criteria
This report documents the variability in state definitions and eligibility criteria in the 14 IDEA disability categories. It presents results, discusses implications for special education service delivery, and considers the role of the federal government in special education eligibility determinations.
Publication Date: October 2020
Publisher: Congressional Research Service

The UDL Guidelines
These guidelines offer a set of concrete suggestions that can be applied to any discipline or domain to ensure that all learners can access and participate in meaningful, challenging learning opportunities.
Publication Date: 2022
Publisher: CAST

What Are Academic Modifications?
This article discusses modifications and possible drawbacks. The discussion is enhanced with a video of Dr. Tom Hehir, Professor of Practices in Learning Differences, Harvard Graduate School of Education.
Author: Andrew Lee
Publisher: Understood

Who Are English Language Learners with Disabilities?
This article explores what is known about the prevalence of disabilities among ELLs and the characteristics of ELLs with disabilities. It concludes with recommendations for schools and organizations serving these students.
Authors: Elizabeth Watkins and Kristin Kline Liu
Publisher: University of Minnesota