There are three general categories of disabilities: intellectual, physical and sensory (see Glossary).

Intellectual Disabilities include developmental disabilities and brain trauma. Mental illness is another kind of disability often categorized under psychological disabilities. Special Olympics is an organization that provides athletes with an intellectual disability an opportunity to enhance their lives and celebrate personal achievements through positive sport experiences. The Canadian Association for Athletes with an Intellectual Disability is an organization that represents elite athletes with an intellectual disability at events such as the Paralympic Games. There is a very significant difference between both of these organizations and the athletes they represent.

The most common Physical Disabilities include: spinal cord injuries (paraplegia, quadriplegia and hemiplegia), amputation, cerebral palsy, multiple sclerosis, muscular dystrophy, spina bifida and polio. A physical disability is anything that limits a person’s mobility including upper and lower limb impairment, manual dexterity limitations or coordination problems.

A Sensory Disability is when an individual is unable to accurately interpret an outside stimulus. This may be in a form of blind- ness, deafness, severe vision impairment or severe hearing impairment. Athletes with vision impairments may participate in the Paralympic Games. There are also disability-specific games like the Deaflympics for athletes with hearing impairments.