Physical and Health Disabilities

Written By Ryan Alexander Wyman

Physical Disability Definition

Physical Disabilities are conditions related to a physical deformity or impairment of the skeletal system and associated motor function. Can Include Physical Impairments and Orthopedic Impairments.

Under the Individual Disability Education Act (IDEA), physical disabilities is defined as physical problems with the structure of functioning of an individuals body that are so significant that they impact their academic performance.

Physical Disability Criteria

Physical Disability must meet two criteria:

*Be Severe

*Affect students academic performance adversely

Two Types of Physical Disabilities:

*Neuromotor disabilities include epileptic seizure episodes that involve consistent convulsions or seizures directly caused by abnormal brain injury.

*Neuro-motor disabilities involve conditions caused by severe damage to the central nervous system that directly affects individuals nerves, muscles, and motor functioning.

*Neuromotor Disability Examples: Cerebral Palsy and Polio which both are severe physical conditions limits individuals ability to control motor functioning and can cause paralysis.

*Muscular/Skeletal conditions are physical impairments that cause severe limited functioning in the muscles, limbs, and bones.

*Muscular/ Skeletal conditions examples include Juvenile Arthritis, skeletal disorder of dwarfism, and scoliosis which all can cause swelling, immobility in an individual's body as well as limit mobility.

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Health Disability Definition

Health disabilities are chronic health impairments in individuals resulting in limited strength, vitality, and alertness that negatively affects a students academic performance as a direct result.

Examples: Asthma, Diabetes, Cystic Fibrosis, Congenital Heart Defects, Tuberculosis

According to the federal government classification of health disabilities under Individuals Disability Education Act (IDEA), students with chronic health disabilities possess a heightened alertness to environmental stimuli due to their illness which results in a severely limited awareness and comprehension of the academic curriculum and classroom environment. As a direct result of this occurrence, students with health disabilities have their educational performance negatively affected which requires them to need academic accommodations in order to succeed and aid in their learning.

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Types of Health Disabilities: Chronic Illnesses

Chronic Illnesses: Severe health impairments that last for an extended period of time (at least three months or longer) and causes high levels of sickness and pain to the affected individuals.

Types of Chronic Illnesses:

*Asthma which involves severe difficulty in breathing and constant coughing due to inflammation of the airways and asthma can also be caused by breathing in allergy causing substances.

*Diabetes which is a lifetime condition involving excessive amounts of sugar being in individuals bloodstream due to the pancreas being unable to produce enough insulin.

*Diabetes can result in blurred vision, excessive thirst, severe fatigue, frequent urination, and hunger.

*Type 1 Diabetes is most common in young children and is typically caused by genetics, viruses, or autoimmune difficulties.

*Type 2 Diabetes is usually most common in young adults and is caused by obesity and lack of exercise.

*As a means of effectively treating diabetes, individuals afflicted with the chronic illness are required to take daily blood tests, insulin shots, monitor food intake, and increase exercise.

*Cystic Fibrosis is a genetic birth defect that causes chronic lung infections, respiratory difficulties, digestive conflicts, and frequent episodes of pneumonia. Cystic Fibrosis is a life threatening condition that is the most prevalent severe lung condition in children and young adults.

Meet Addy, Cystic Fibrosis Patient

Types of Health Disabilities: Infectious Diseases

*Infectious Diseases are severe health impairments caused by pathogenic microorganisms such as bacteria or parasites that infect individuals and these infectious diseases are spread directly or indirectly from one person to another through the exchange of bodily fluids.

*Types of Infectious Diseases:

*S.T.O.R.C.H. (Syphilis, Toxoplasmosis, Other, Rubella Cytomegalovirus, and Herpes) :

A group of severe congenital infections that can cause a wide range of health impairments that negatively affect individuals and is typically caused by infectious diseases of a pregnant mother being passed onto newborn infants. These infectious diseases can cause brutal illnesses for newborn infants if not promptly medically treated.

*HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) and AIDS (autoimmune deficiency virus) are extremely harmful as well as potentially life-threatening infectious diseases that results in severe damage to the immune system and directly interferes with the body's ability to fight off the organisms that cause disease or sickness.

*HIV and AIDS is a sexually transmitted infection that be acquired through the transference of bodily and sexual fluids. HIV/AIDS can also be caused as a result of risks adolescent behavior such as unprotected sexual activity and sharing of needles.

*HIV/AIDS can be spread by infected mothers passing virus to infants through direct contact.

*In order to help treat HIV/AIDS patients, substantial medical care and management practices are utilized and academic classrooms containing students with HIV/AIDS require sanitary procedures in order to protect the disease-afflicted and non-disease afflicted students in the classroom.

*Hepatitis B: An infectious viral disease that involves inflammation of the liver and generally caused by infected blood, sexual transmission, and unclean needles.

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Infection protection for students and Teachers in the classroom

Prevalence Rates of Individuals with Physical and Health disabilities

*Only 0.09% of students that receive special education services have physical disabilities.

*About 1.38% of students that receive special education services have health disabilities.

*Over half of all students with physical disabilities attend their local neighborhood schools and participate in general education classes over 80% of the school day.

*More than 60% of students with health disabilities actively engage in inclusive education classes over 80% of the school day.

*Approximately 11% of all U.S. students receive special education services and accommodations.

*Physical and Health disabilities are considered incidence disabilities because only a small percentage of students with physical and health disabilities receive special education services in the classroom.

* Prevalence of students with physical and health disabilities is low because there are no national or state centered registries that are stored for specific health or physical disabilities, the chance of double-counting students is high due to some students having multiple health and physical conditions, and a large amount of certain health and physical disabilities do not require the immediate need for special educations services.

*Less than 1% of all students with health disabilities possess severe chronic illnesses that they need to receive their education at home or in hospitals.

*About 7-10% of students have asthma which is one of the leading causes of absenteeism in U.S. schools.

*Approximately 0.26% of students possess type 1 diabetes and school staff (teachers and nurses) usually assist with diabetes management of health disabled students needs by administering insulin, checking blood glucose, and selecting appropriate foods.

Major Characteristics of Health and Physical Disabilities that Interfere with Learning In The Educational Classroom

*Students with physical disabilities display a lack of mobility, movement, and physical capabilities due to their neuromotor and skeletal/muscular conditions which interferes with their ability to:

  • Complete class assignments
  • Examinations
  • Pay-attention in class
  • Follow teacher instruction
  • Engage in interactive classroom activities
  • Ability to move freely around the classroom.

*Students with neuromotor disabilities experience epileptic seizures that causes their bodies to frequently convulse which can occur in the classroom. After the seizure occurs it is extremely hard for the students to retain memory of the lessons learned in class.

*Students with physical disabilities that experience epileptic seizures in the classroom typically experience short-term memory loss of the course material being presented in class, difficulty in paying attention to classroom instruction, trouble possessing a clear understanding of the course material, difficulty completing class assignments, projects, examinations, and homework, trouble processing and applying complex academic information and concepts.

*Students with neuro-motor and skeletal/muscular conditions possess a severe lack of control in their physical movement which interferes with their learning because they have severe difficulty grasping and utilizing their pencils, pens, and various writing utensils for a long period of time which causes them to have severe problems recording notes, completing class assignments and examinations.

*Students with health disabilities such as chronic illnesses and infectious diseases can possess the symptoms of excessive fatigue, fever, headaches, respiratory difficulties, loss of consciousness, chronic coughing, blurry vision, excessive thirst, frequent hunger, digestive problems, high levels of urination, severe migraines, weakened immune system, a large amount of absences due to doctors appointments, sickness, and receiving of medical care due to the students health disabilities.

*The major characteristics/symptoms of health disabilities that students experience directly negatively interferes with their cognitive ability to effectively comprehend academic material, retain enough information to achieve academic success in the classroom, actively listen to classroom instruction, obey teacher directions, ability to complete assignments and examinations on time, ability to hand in assignments and projects in on time, engage in active classroom participation with fellow classmates, and attend an efficient amount of classes.

*Students with severe physical and health disabilities that experience the severe symptoms listed above suffers from excessive academic impairments in the classroom as a direct result which include:

*Weakened Attention Skills.

*Impairments in reading and language development skills.

*Impaired arithmetic learning and severely low motor skill functioning.

*Excessively weakened memory, cognitive reasoning, spatial configuration, behavioral, and organizational skills.

Classroom Absence Seizure
Epilepsy in the Classroom

Academic Accommodations For Students with Physical and Health Disabilities

Academic Accommodations for Students with Health and Physical Disabilities:

*Flexible scheduling of classes and due dates for assignments, homework, and projects so if students need more time to complete assignments or cannot attend class in the morning due to medical emergencies due to their health and physical disability symptoms, they would be able to complete their assignments or attend classes at an alternative time that is beneficial to the impaired physical and health state of the student.

*Students with severe physical disabilities or chronic health that issues that are too severely sick to attend a normal classroom environment are able to utilize assistive technology at home in order to participate in distance education which involves students with health or physical disabilities continuing their schooling at home or in the hospital by receiving, completing, and posting all classwork, projects, exams, notes, and homework assignments online.

*Students with physical and health disabilities that participate in distance education services typically create large online study groups in which the members of the group hold online study sessions where they share notes about the specific class, study academic material together, discuss course material, and assist each other in completing class assignments.

* Students with severe physical and health disabilities that are not healthy enough to attend classes in person are able to work with classmates to study and complete assignments through the accommodation tools of distance education and communities of practice.

*Students with physical and health disabilities create online class discussions and study sessions by utilizing assistive technology of skype and video chat in order to actively participate, discuss, and study with the individuals in the organized online study group.

*Section 504 requires accommodations that allow students with health and physical disabilities the ability to access public buildings and not face discrimination in the classroom or the workplace. The provision on the federal legal document section 504 requires academic institutions to provide academic accommodations to students whose physical or health disabilities need special attention, but do not exactly require special education services.

*Students with severe physical disabilities, involving neuro-motor or skeletal/muscular conditions such as scoliosis or muscular dystrophy, can receive the accommodation of having two sets of books so they can keep one set at home and another set at school in order to help eliminate the physical hassle of carrying a large amount of heavy books around the classroom. This accommodation allows students with physical disabilities to reduce the degree of physical activity and pressure they have to carry around in their backpacks throughout the school day which they cannot carry a substantial amount due to their muscular, skeletal, and neuro-motor ailments.

*Allowing students with chronic illnesses, infectious diseases, and other health disabilities to possess permission to leave their medications at school so they have easy access to consume their required medications in the classroom in order to continue their required medical treatment as ordered by the students primary physician.

*Utilizing large print on worksheets and books, audiotape, electronic access, and highlighting are helpful academic assisting tools that can be very helpful for students with physical disabilities because it allows the students with severe physical ailments that detrimentally affects their motor functioning skills of writing, typing, drawing, and reading to utilize electronic technology, pre-written notes, and audio instruments in order to advance their learning and understanding of the course material without exerting the impaired motor functioning skills of the students with physical disabilities.

*Providing students with physical and health disabilities preferential seating to allow for wheelchair access for students in a wheelchair or aisle seating for students with crutches or a larger desk for storage as well as extra workspace in order to help physically disabled students with severely restricted motion or physical movement to get around the classroom more effectively.

*Establishing appropriate lighting in classrooms for light sensitive physically disabled students that are prone to having epileptic seizures as well as for environmentally sensitive health disabled students who develop severe headaches, respiratory issues, or physical discomfort due to the potent classroom lighting. This classroom lighting accommodation helps physically disabled students to avoid being triggered by excessive lighting to have a epileptic seizure and it also helps prevent students with chronic illness or infectious diseases from experiencing potent headaches and physical discomfort in the classroom. Modified appropriate lighting will also help students with physical and health disabilities to attain maximum focus actively listening to the lesson plans and successfully completing assignments in the classroom environment.

Resource Links for Additional Information on accommodations for students with physical and health disabilities in the classroom Resource link for additional information on instructional classroom accommodations for students with physical and health disabilities Resource link for additional information about assistive technology accommodations to help students with physical and health disabilities to succeed in the classroom. Resource link for additional information about accessing distance education technologies for students with disabilities, severe physical ailments as well as chronic illnesses.

Additional Accommodations or Strategies for Students with Physical and Health Disabilities in the Classroom

*Teachers of completely inclusive classroom environments featuring students with physical and health disabilities need to implement to their students that all students have a fair chance to excel in the classroom, state that every single student in the classroom is important, and establish high expectations for every student regardless of their race, gender, socio-economic background, physical, mental, health status.

*Teachers providing a safe and secure place for students with physical and health disabilities to store their assistive technology devices and creating flexible seating arrangements for these students.

*Provide students with severe physical ailments or chronic illnesses/infectious diseases classroom accommodations of extended time to complete assignments or exams, abbreviated assignments, flexible assignment due dates, and note-takers.

Home Accommodations for Students and Individuals with Physical and Health Disabilities

*Students with physical or health disabilities could be provided a service animal to help them get around places, sustain their physical activity to a healthy degree, and to assist students with medical emergencies. Providing service animals to students with physical and health disabilities can help them improve their physical mobility outside the classroom, service animals could potentially help anticipate when a physically disabled student is going to have a seizure and could help to calm the student down as they are going through an epileptic seizure.

*Parents, siblings, and family members of students with physical or health disabilities can organize fun mental and physical games to play with these students at home in order to help improve the students cognitive abilities outside the classroom and to help students with physical disabilities learn to physically move around the house and the outside environment more independently.

*Parents and Teachers should help create and assign homework assignments for students with disabilities to complete with their family members so they can work together to understand the academic concepts that the student is having difficulty comprehending and it allows the family members to help instruct physically and health disabled children on how to effectively deal with their physical or health ailments while learning new concepts or successfully completing an activity in order to gradually show the children that their severe ailments do not have to always negatively affect their cognitive abilities.

*Parents should provide easy access to items at home especially medications in order for their children with physical ailments or chronic illnesses to possess an improved accessibility to the required materials they need on a daily basis around the house.

*An example of this would be modifying furniture at home for children with scoliosis, dwarfism, or muscular dystrophy so these children can have better accessibility to sitting on furniture that is comfortable for them and not cause them physical discomfort due to their physical ailments.

*Another Example is parents of a child who uses a wheelchair to modify the furniture and appliances in their home to be at eye level to the physically disabled child so the child can independently move around and accomplish tasks around the house without assistance. A website resource about additional information on home accommodations for providing universal home modifications for individuals with severe physical disabilities.

Website Resources and One App on students with Physical and Health disabilities

This is a website educating teachers, parents, and communities about students with chronic illnesses and specifically how students possessing chronic illness negatively affects their academic performance as well as includes teaching strategies teachers could use to help and assist students with chronic illnesses adjust better in the classroom.

This is a website resource suggesting helpful advice and tips for educators on how to effectively teach and provide accommodations for students with severe physical disabilities in order to help them move comfortably around the classroom environment and how to ensure that the classroom environment is handicap accessible for their physical disabilities in order to maximize physically disabled students capacity for learning.

This is a website resource link to a smartphone application called the Epilepsy Society App which provides an interactive outlet for individuals who possess epilepsy to digitally record their seizures through the feature of a seizure diary in which users can write down and record the different epileptic seizures that they experience. The Epilepsy society app also features an export function in which users can send their epilepsy diary to health care professionals as well as a feature called My Medication which allows users with epilepsy to create detailed digital records of the epileptic medications that they take and it also includes the ability for users to set alarms to inform them when they need to take their epileptic medication.

Health Impairments Accommodations Within Schools

Health Impairments Accommodations Within School. (2007, November 16.) Retrieved December 4th, 2015 from

Accommodations and Modifications At A Glance: Educational Accommodations For Impaired Students

Accommodations and Modifications at a Glance: Educational Accommodations for Students Who Are Blind or Visually Impaired. (n.d.). Retrieved December 10, 2015, from

Special Instruction: Classroom Strategies for Teaching Physically Disabled Students

Torreno, S. (2015, May 28). Teaching Strategies for Students With Physical Disabilities: Classroom Setup and More. Retrieved December 10, 2015, from

Introduction To Contemporary Special Education: New Horizons

Smith, D., & Tyler, N. (2013). Physical and Health Disabilities. In Introduction To Contemporary Special Education: New Horizons (1st ed., pp. Pg.255-282). Boston, Columbus, Indianapolis, New York, Massachusetts, Ohio, Indiana, New York: Pearson Education.