What is a disability?

Disability or special need?

For children, the terms special need and disability are often used together. It is important to know that a disability is always related to a special need, whereas a special need does not necessarily mean a disability. Estonian legislation defines disability as follows:

Disability is the loss of or an abnormality in an anatomical, physiological or mental structure or function of a person which in conjunction with different relational and environmental restrictions prevents participation in social life on equal bases with the others.

Disabilities are divided into: mobility disability, visual disability, hearing disability, intellectual disability, speech impairment, multiple disability and other disabilities caused by a medical condition, which in turn may have different degrees of severity: moderate, severe or profound

The degree of severity of disability for children, i.e. under 16 years of age, is assessed based on the personal assistance, guidance or supervision required on a daily basis. Leaving aside the complicated definition, disability in children is expressed by the amount of additional support and help they require from adults compared to their healthy peers:

  • moderate – the child needs regular personal assistance and guidance outside the home at least once a week.
  • severe – the child needs personal assistance, guidance or supervision twenty-four hours a day.
  • profound - the child needs constant personal assistance, guidance or supervision twenty-four hours a day.

Lifelong impairment is not determined for a child, as their state of health may change over time, both for the better and for the worse. For example, a child injured in an accident may have profound disability after the trauma, while after a few years of rehabilitation, the degree of severity may become severe or moderate. However, in the case of a progressive chronic illness, moderate disability can become profound disability over time as the child's condition worsens. Thus, the degree of severity is always determined for either 6 months, 1 year, 2 years or 3 years, but not for longer than until the child’s 16th birthday.

Disabled person's card
When disability is determined for a child, they can receive a disabled person’s card. You do not have to apply for the card separately; indicating that you would like the card on the application for determining disability is enough. A disabled person’s card proves the child’s right to certain benefits. The card is valid together with an identity document, which for schoolchildren can be a student card.

Illustratsioon: mees õpetab last rulaga sõitma.
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