Physical Disabilities

There are a wide range of conditions grouped together under the term physical disability.   Students with physical disabilities may have problems related to movement, posture (e.g., sitting, standing), grasping or manipulating objects, communication, eating, perception, reflex movements, and/or automatic motricity.

Physical disabilities may impact motor skills, resulting in loss of mobility. Motor skills are based on a complex body structure which includes the nervous system, spinal cord, muscles, nerves, and joints. The disability may affect one or more of these elements (e.g., muscular, neurological, or skeletal systems) rather than a certain part of the body. Disabilities that impact mobility include neurological conditions, such as multiple sclerosis, cerebral palsy or Parkinson’s disease.  They also include people who have paraplegia/quadriplegia, amputations or arthritis.

The initial barrier experienced by many students with physical disabilities is physically accessing the learning environment itself. For many students with physical disabilities, the inaccessibility of buildings and surrounding areas is a problem. Academic accommodations for students with physical disabilities can ensure that the learning environment is physically accessible.

Students with physical disabilities and neurological conditions may also have perceptual difficulties that can take various forms. Some students have difficulty receiving information by hearing or sight, while others can see or hear, but cannot process the information they receive. This can cause difficulties with reading and writing, such as locating the correct place on the page or moving from left to right when reading and writing. These students may use assistive technology to access course materials and to complete college assignments.

Students with a neurological condition, who may also have a physical disability, can have difficulty communicating through speech. People with communication difficulties are often thought to be far less able than they really are. It is important to avoid making quick judgments about these students to ensure that automatic assumptions are not made concerning a student’s intelligence and ability if their speech is very slow, slurred, or if they are non-verbal.

For more information on the impacts of this disability and classroom accommodations see Mobility, Dexterity, Fatigue and Stamina, Oral Expression, Information Processing, Chronic Pain, Attention/Concentration.