Learning Disabilities vs. Differences

Many people prefer to use the terminology "learning differences" or "learning challenges" instead of "learning disabilities". Some are concerned that the term "learning disability" focuses  on an individual's cognitive weaknesses and isolates them from other learners while the term "learning differences" highlights the fact that they simply learn differently than others do. So what exactly is the difference and why does it matter what terminology is used? 

LDA agrees that individuals with learning disabilities do learn differently and have as much to offer and contribute as individuals without learning disabilities. However, in the United States today, there are several laws in place to preserve the rights of individuals with disabilities to equal treatment.  For school-aged children, the Federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) ensures that students ages 3-21 will receive a Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE) in the Least Restrictive Environment (LRE).  IDEA ensures that children with disabilities will have the same opportunities and access to public education as their peers without disabilities.  Under IDEA, there are currently 13 different disability classifications.  In order for students to be considered eligible to receive the supports and services provided under IDEA, they need to be "classified" under one of these 13 categories.  One of these categories is Specific Learning Disability (SLD).  Unfortunately under IDEA there is no classification of Learning Difference or Learning Challenge.  The same principle holds true for adults with learning disabilities who's rights may be protected by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). 

LDA endorses the use of the terminology of "learning disabilities" versus "learning differences" to ensure that individuals are appropriately identified as required by these laws in order to receive supports and services as provided by these laws or who deserve equal access to employment and other similar opportunities.