Disabilities is an umbrella term, covering impairments, activity limitations, and participation restrictions. An impairment is a problem in body function or structure; an activity limitation is a difficulty encountered by an individual in executing a task or action; while a participation restriction is a problem experienced by an individual in involvement in life situations.Public schools recognize students with certain special needs as having disabilities, and are mandated by law to provide them with accommodations. But this is limited to a specific range of disabilities that are specifically classified as such. Section 504 of the landmark Rehabilitation Act of 1973 states that "no qualified individual with a disability in the United States shall be excluded from, denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under" any federally funded program. The idea behind this is of course that students with disabilities must be given special help in order to receive an equal education.
Thus disability is a complex phenomenon, reflecting an interaction between features of a person’s body and features of the society in which he or she lives.
So how is this different than disadvantaged students who lack adequate levels of human and social capital (combined, they can be thought of as Academic Capital) required to be successful? We have the tools to target, assess and diagnose these populations. We know that they face severe deficits - certainly by Kindergarten age, but in reality much earlier in life. And their level of future success is highly predictable based on a variety of risk-factors. We know the interventions we can use to accommodate their special needs.
Maybe we need a new law. How about the Academic Capital Rehabilitation Act of 2012?