Definitions of “Cognitive Disability”

Goal

Find a recent, functional definition of “cognitive disability” written by an appropriate U.S. federal government agency, and adopted by government agencies and education institutions throughout the country.

Goal = Wishful Thinking

It appears no authoritative source has published a widely-used and accepted functional definition, nor a clinical one. Because I intend the Clear Helper Web site to be accessible to people with cognitive disabilities, it would have been helpful to find an authoritative, functional definition.

Definitions from Federal-Government Sources

The closest I came to my goal, at least for an authoritative source, is a clinical definition on the Web site of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Administration for Children & Families.  The definition is part of an explanation of why the term “cognitive disabilities” was not used instead of “intellectual disabilities” on the Web site of the President’s Committee for People with Intellectual Disabilities.

“Cognitive disabilities” is often used by physicians, neurologists, psychologists and other professionals to include adults sustaining head injuries with brain trauma after the age 18, adults with infectious diseases or affected by toxic substances leading to organic brain syndromes and cognitive deficits after the age 18, and with older adults with Alzheimer diseases or other forms of dementias as well as other populations that do not meet the strict definition of mental retardation.

Retrieved from: http://faq.acf.hhs.gov/cgi-bin/acfrightnow.cfg/php/enduser/std_adp.php?p_faqid=934&p_created=1068052784 (Published December 4, 2009)

The next-closest to my goal, in terms of a functional definition from a federal-government agency, is on the Web site of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Cognitive disabilities cover a wide range of needs and abilities that vary for each specific person. Conditions range from person having a serious mental impairment caused by Alzheimer’s disease, Bipolar Disorder or medications to non-organic disorders such as dyslexia, attention deficit disorder, poor literacy or problems understanding information. At a basic level, these disabilities affect the mental process of knowledge, including aspects such as awareness, perception, reasoning, and judgment. Simply put, the Center on Human Policy at Syracuse University defines cognitive disability as: “a disability that impacts an individual’s ability to access, process, or remember information.”

Retrieved from: http://www.epa.gov/accessibility/technology/disabilities.htm (Published December 29, 2008).  Syracuse University definition retrieved from: http://thechp.syr.edu/definitions_support_terms.html

I also found an older, brief, functional definition on a Web site of the U.S. Department of Transportation.

Cognitive disability – Limitation of the ability to perceive, recognize, understand, interpret, and/or respond to information.

Retrieved from: http://www.fhwa.dot.gov/environment/sidewalks/appb.htm (Published January 20, 2004)

I could not find any evidence that the above definitions have been adopted by anyone, let alone widely-adopted.

Definitions From Other Sources

I found the following definition on the Web site of the Coleman Institute for Cognitive Disabilities, at The University of Colorado.

When we refer to “cognitive disabilities” on this website we are primarily referring to mental retardation and developmental disabilities, acquired brain injury, Alzheimer’s disease, and severe and persistent mental illness. …

Cognitive disability stems from a substantial limitation in one’s capacity to think, including conceptualizing, planning and sequencing thoughts and actions, remembering, and interpreting the meaning of social and emotional cues, and of numbers and symbols.

Retrieved from: https://www.cu.edu/ColemanInstitute/background.html (Published December 14, 2006)

The most useful information I found is on the WebAIM Web site.  It provides general clinical- and functional definitions in the context of accessibility for people with cognitive disabilities.  It has a list of categories of functional deficits, with a relevant synopsis of each.

Cognitive Disabilities: Introduction (Published May 3, 2009)

The WebAIM article’s discussion of clinical- versus functional- definitions closely matches that of another useful article, posted on the Disabled World Web Site.

Cognitive Disabilities (Published February 10, 2009)

Search Term

In all my searches, I used variations of the search term: “cognitive disability” definition

Sources Searched

Note: If you know of a definition or a source of a definition for “cognitive disability”, please contact me or post a comment.  Thank you.

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One Response to “Definitions of “Cognitive Disability””

  1. Delaune Pollard Says:

    I strongly suggest you contact Dr Sarah Austin, Associate Professor of Occupational Therapy, Chicago State University. Her email address: saustin@csu.edu or contact her office on 7739952453

    Many therapists living in the US as well as around the world assisted Sarah with describing how to put into language what we were observing. Sarah has come up with some wonderful diagrams explaining the Cognitive Disability Model and functional cognition terminology. As occupational therapists our focus on function and the terminology we use explains why people behave in the way they do, why they can’t successfully do daily activities and why they are cognitively unable to live independently without social assistance. The highly standardized assessments used evaluate how people can use their visual-spatial abilities and what cues are required for them to live as independently as possible in an ever-changing environment

    Like

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