Physical and Health Disabilities

Resources for Teachers and Parents

Definition and Description

  • Physical and health disabilities arise from different conditions that restrict movement or require health care.
  • Physical disabilities arise when the functioning of ones body impacts their education.
  • Health disabilities arise when health situations impact their learning.
  • Under IDEA these disabilities are identified as:
  • orthopedic impairments (physical disabilities)
  • other health impairments (health disabilities)

Not all students who have a physical or health disability receive special education services,in order to receive special educational services:

Physical Disabilities:

  1. Must be severe
  2. Affects education performance adversely

Health Disabilities:

  1. Must result in limited strength, vitality, or alertness
  2. Is due to chronic or acute health problems
  3. Affects education performance adversely

Characteristics of Physical Disabilities

Physical disability is divided into two groups:

1. Muscular/ Skeletal Conditions

Impairments that affect the limbs or muscles

2. Neuromotor impairments

Conditions caused by damage to the central nervous system (the brain and spinal cord)

Muscular/ Skeletal Impairments:

  • Juvenile Arthritis
  • Limb Deficiencies
  • Skeletal Disorders

Neuromotor Impairments:

  • Epilepsy
  • Cerebral Palsy
  • Spinal Cord Disorders
  • Muscular Dystrophy
  • Polio
  • Multiple Sclerosis

Characteristics of Health Disabilities

Health disabilities are divided into two groups:

1. Chronic Illness

A long lasting condition that can be controlled but not treated

2. Infectious Diseases

Disorder caused by organisms, can be passed from person to person,through bites or contaminated foods or water.

Chronic Illness:

  • Asthma
  • Blood Disorders
  • Childhood Cancer
  • Congenital Heart Defects
  • Cystic Fibrosis
  • Diabetes
  • Sickle Cell Anemia
  • Tuberculosis

Infectious Diseases:

  • Hepatitis B
  • STORCH Infections


  • Low incidence disabilities
  • Very few students actually get special education services
  • 0.09% of students have physical disabilities that require services
  • 1.38% of students have health disabilities
  • Since ADHD was included the number has grown by over 284% in the health disabilities category
  • No national or state-based registries
  • Some students have multiple conditions so double-counting is high
  • Many conditions do not require a need for special education
  • Over ½ of physically disabled students attend their local schools (they are apart of the regular school day 80% of the time)
  • Over 60% of students with health disabilities participate in general education more than 80% of the school day

Instructional Practices

To help students access the curriculum easily and learn effectively, teachers can…

  • Make schedule more flexible: A lot of students with physical disabilities will get fatigued throughout the day, it is a good strategy to have a math class or social studies class in the morning instead of later in the day.
  • Improve classroom traffic patterns: This helps the child maneuver themselves around the class, so they can feel more independent/
  • Assistive technology as well as, providing safe and secure place to store AT devices: The use of book holders, and page turners, or adapted keyboards help the student follow along with the curriculum and being able to easily access that technology is important
  • Service Animals: They are used to help students carry heavy textbook and to guide them throughout the halls, but it should be made clear that the animal is not a pet so as not to distract the other students.

Additional Links to Instructional Strategies

Home Strategies

The use of technology in the classroom can be carried on to the home environment, especially for students with physical and health disabilities who can’t always make it to school because of a severe illness.

Distance Technology, or accessing general curriculum with technology at home or hospital, can be achieved through…

  • Online assignments: some students may not be able to attend every class, this allows them to stay up to date with current assignments and the general curriculum
  • Establishing communities of practice:
  • Skyping lectures and class discussions: this goes along with not being able to attend every class but being up to date and engaged even during an absence.
  • Creating virtual classrooms (i.e.. Blackboard):

Tap to Talk

This app allows users to express basic needs/wants with the tap of a button. For physical disabilities such as cerebal palsy where the child is non-verbal this app allows them to express what they want. The statements are categorized and you can even add your own personal statements. The app is easy to use, especially for young children.

Living with Physical and Health Disabilities

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