Disability Vocabulary: Overcoming Limitations

Practice disability vocabulary by reading and listening to ways people have overcome their limits, then putting words into categories and then matching words and their meanings.

playing wheelchair basketball

There are many inspiring stories online about people who have reached their goals in spite of major disabilities, as well as news about new treatments and assistive devices to help people achieve their goals and live well in spite of their limits. 

On this page I have linked to a few of the best, illustrating several different disabilities and recent advances in treatment.  Most of these have fairly simple English, though the NPR interview and article are longer and more challenging.

I would suggest starting with a short (under 10 minute) TED talk on “Living Beyond Limits” by a young woman who kept her dreams alive—and even enlarged them-- after an infection that led to amputation (surgical removal) of her lower legs. (The link is to the page with a transcript, so you can read along as—or after—you listen.)

If you don't know some of the words related to disabilities, you can do the matching exercise first. (Just guess ones you don't know-- it's not a test!) Then check the answers for simple definitions of the most common words.

Then read about a woman who helped her brother deal with blindness—and ended up helping over 4,000 disabled people in India find jobs. 

If you can read English at an intermediate level or above, try this interview from NPR (National Public Radio). It’s a talk with a man who lost his lower legs from frostbite (damage from extreme cold) in a bad storm while mountain climbing. He has not only returned to mountain climbing, but helps design better prostheses (artificial limbs) for other people. 

You can listen to it, and read a related story, as well as the transcript of the interview, using the link above. It is long, and has some more difficult words, but you can understand the main idea even if you miss some of the harder words. 

There are two more TED talks that are easy English and well worth listening to if you are interested in more stories about overcoming limitations and reaching out to help others.

Carolyn Casey talks about how she learned to not be limited by near-blindness. Alberto Cairo tells about developing rehabilitation services, in the midst of war, for people disabled by the fighting in Afghanistan.

These stories demonstrate that people who have disabilities do not have to let them control or limit their lives. With imagination, determination, and help they can still achieve many of their dreams and contribute to their communities—sometimes in a greater way than if they had not had to deal with limitations.

Practice Disability Vocabulary

Classify these words by the ways they can be used: (Put them into the four groups below the list. Just write them in groups on a piece of paper, and check your answers at the bottom of the page.)

accident, amputate, amputation, assist, assistance, assistive, bionic, blind, blindness, design, disabled, disability employ, employed, employment, enable, imagine, impaired, impairment, injure, injured, injury, innovate, job, limit, limitations, paralysis, paralyzed, physical, prosthesis, prosthetic, rehabilitate, rehabilitation, visual. (These are not all the possible forms of these words.)

nouns- problems



nouns for kinds of help



adjectives



verbs (what people can do)



Match these Words with their Meanings (on the left)

1. surgical removal of part of a limb, hand, or foot
2. an arm or leg (or major branch of a tree)
3. an assistive device (artificial limb) that replaces a lost body part
4. ability to move
5. sight; the ability to see
6. inability to see
7. damage to some part of the body, often accidental
8. inability to move one or more limbs
9. assistance in regaining normal functioning after injury
10. having a job
11. adjective meaning related to the sense of sight
12. adjective describing artificial body parts, usually with electronic components
13. to think of new ways to solve a problem

To practice related words, see Medical Vocabulary (including a lot of words for treatments) or Nervous System Vocabulary (examples and a crossword puzzle.)

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Disability Vocabulary Classification Answers

nouns- problems

accident

amputation

blindness

disability

impairment

injury

limitations

paralysis

nouns for kinds of help

assistance

employment

job

prosthesis

rehabilitation

adjectives

assistive

bionic

blind

disabled

employed

impaired

injured

paralyzed

physical

prosthetic

visual

verbs (what people can do)

amputate

assist

design

employ

enable

imagine

injure

innovate

limit

rehabilitate

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