Is Albinism a disability?
Persons with Albinism are usually as healthy as the rest of the population, with growth and development occurring as normal, but can be classified as disabled because of the associated visual impairments.
What is Albinism?
Albinism in humans is a congenital disorder characterized by the complete or partial absence of pigment in the skin, hair and eyes due to absence or defect of tyrosinase, a copper-containing enzyme involved in the production of melanin. It is the opposite of melanism. Unlike humans, other animals have multiple pigments and for these, albinism is considered to be a hereditary condition characterised by the absence of pigment in the eyes, skin, hair, scales, feathers or cuticle.
Albinism is associated with a number of vision defects, such as photophobia, nystagmus and amblyopia. Lack of skin pigmentation makes for more susceptibility to sunburn and skin cancers. In rare cases such as Chédiak–Higashi syndrome, albinism may be associated with deficiencies in the transportation of melanin granules. This also affects essential granules present in immune cells leading to increased susceptibility to infection.
In humans, there are two principal types of albinism: oculocutaneous, affecting the eyes, skin and hair, and ocular affecting the eyes only.
Most people with oculocutaneous albinism appear white or very pale, as the melanin pigments responsible for brown, black, and some yellow colorations are not present. Ocular albinism results in light blue eyes, and may require genetic testing to diagnose.
Because individuals with albinism have skin that entirely lacks the dark pigment melanin, which helps protect the skin from the sun’s ultraviolet radiation, their skin can burn more easily from overexposure.
The human eye normally produces enough pigment to colour the iris blue, green or brown and lend opacity to the eye. In photographs, those with albinism are more likely to demonstrate “red eye,” due to the red of retina being visible through the iris. Lack of pigment in the eyes also results in problems with vision, both related and unrelated to photosensitivity.
For more information about disability, please contact Petra Burger (HPCA Disability Project Coordinator) – firstname.lastname@example.org