Disability categories

The Nationally Consistent Collection of Data on School Students with Disability (NCCD) identifies four broad categories of disability: physical, cognitive, sensory, and social/emotional. A student may need adjustments in multiple categories. Below are examples of functional adjustments that can be made for students with a disability. Please note that it is not exhaustive.

For more information about categories of disability and reasonable adjustments, see the NCCD professional learning website and the Department of Education, Skills and Employment. For more information about specific disabilities, please visit: The Australian Parenting Website.

What is it?

A physical disability is a limitation in the mobility of a person that cannot be cured through rehabilitation. These disabilities can be inherent from birth, developed as the person ages, or acquired through an accident. Those with a physical disability often adapt or adjust their day-to-day routines in order to achieve similarly to someone without a physical disability. These disabilities can affect many body parts (as in paralysis) or just a few (as in a wrist disability).

Functional adjustments:


Poor fine motor control icon

Poor fine motor control – Symptoms may include an inability to write (legibly) or type, and reduced writing/typing speed, as well as increased fatigue in writing and fine motor tasks. Use alternatives such as speech to text, a scribe, and an alteration of fine motor tasks.

Limited mobility or Gross motor skills icon

Limited mobility or Gross motor skills – These students may not be able to reach equipment and may experience increased fatigue during physical tasks. The environment should be adapted to minimise strain and enable access.

What is it?

Those with a cognitive disability have delayed development from birth, achieve milestones much later than typically developing children, and are academically and socially behind their typically developing peers.

Functional adjustments:


Working memory icon

Working memory – Limitations in working memory may result in increased fatigue during reading and cognitive tasks. Tasks could be broken down into manageable components and additional scaffolds and resources (word banks, instructions, visual and communication aides) could be provided to assist with tasks. Other supports include using a computer with text prediction and screenreader software (ie 'zoom text'), as well as digital recording devices.

Limited abstract thinking skills icon

Limited abstract thinking skills – Developmental delays may delay abstract thinking skills. Educators could consider using more tangible (ie ‘concrete’) objects and known examples to represent abstract ideas.

What is it?

Sensory disability can include hearing loss and vision impairment. Deafness is typically when a person has no ability to hear sounds.

Functional adjustments:


Deaf or hard of hearing icon

Deaf or hard of hearing – Being deaf or hard of hearing is sometimes referred to as experiencing hearing loss or having a hearing impairment. Such a student may have a limited ability to hear some or all frequencies of sound from one or both ears. It can affect the hearing of certain noises, of spoken language, and/or a reduction in the volume of sounds heard. These students may wish to use assistive technology, signing and visual aides. Teachers may also need to wear an FM unit, use closed captioning on videos, provide transcripts and repeated instructions, as well as have the student sit in close proximity to them.

Having limited, low or no vision icon

Having limited, low or no vision – Sometimes referred to as experiencing blindness or vision loss, vision impairment is a disability that, even when corrected (such as with glasses), affects day-to-day living. A person with vision impairment or low vision may have a limited ability to process visual input or colour(s), or an inability to differentiate between light and dark (contrast) or to focus on particular objects or text.

Typically consider preferential seating in the classroom to improve view, handling any materials demonstrated during a lesson before, during and after the demonstration, provide copies as a worksheet of any activities presented at distance eg chalkboard or whiteboard, and verbalise all information in your presentation to the class.

Vision impairment Adjustments
Low vision Zoom text on a computer with screen magnification software, Text to speech
typoscope blocks out the surrounding text allowing the student to focus on the important information.
Low contrast vision Acetate or color filters placed over a printed page will darken the print as well as heighten the contrast between the print and background.

Turn on high contrast on device.
No vision Braille technology: a braille embosser is a printer attached to a computer which is used to produce a braille copy of text. Braille translation software converts printed text into braille.

Tactual graphics and charts (low, med and high tech options)

Auditory devices to access print and information this may include screen reading software and auditory books.

What is it?

Those with social/emotional differences may present a range of conditions, including repetitive and obsessive behaviours and interests, as well as a lack of understanding of social skills and routines. The person’s thought processes, perception of reality, emotions or judgement may be impaired or atypical.

Functional adjustments:


Anxiety icon

Anxiety – Students susceptible to anxiety or stress during classroom activities require additional supports. Suggestions include using a flexible and/or visual timetable, and timed activities with scheduled breaks. Teachers could also explicitly discuss the expectations of the student and employ digital/electronic memory aid strategies.

Additional scaffolding icon

Additional scaffolding – Depending on the task or situation, students may benefit from the assistance of a more knowledgeable peer, or additional structure, scaffolds or support.