Physical and Health Disabilities

Resources for Parents and Teachers

Overview of Physical Disabilities

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  • Severe impairment of the function or structure of the body that significantly impacts educational performance.
  • Also known as Orthopedic Impairments under IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act)


.09% of students receive special education services related to physical disabilities, however there is no specific number for the prevalence due to:
  • No national or state registries that are kept for physical disabilities
  • Some individuals have multiple conditions and are counted under the Multiple Disabilities category under IDEA
  • Many students with physical disabilities do not require special education services

Major Characteristics

  • Paralysis
  • Low/altered muscle tone
  • Unsteady gait
  • Loss/inability to use one or more limbs
  • Difficulty with gross-motor skills
  • Difficulty with fine-motor skills

Characteristics that Interfere with Learning

  • Communication difficulties
  • Difficulty maneuvering around the classroom/hallway
  • Motor difficulties (especially with writing)
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Social skills
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Physical Disability Website Resources

Orthopedic Impairments

This resource provides information for parents of children with physical disabilities, as well as resources they can explore for further information. Resources for teachers of students with physical disabilities are also included, along with accommodation strategies to implement in the classroom.

National Center on Health, Physical Activity, and Disability

The goal of the NCHPAD is to work towards creating an inclusive environment for individuals with health and physical disabilities. It contains tips for creating an inclusive environment, as well as techniques for individuals with physical and health disabilities to remain healthy and active.

TransferLiftCarry iPhone/iPad App

This application provides videos that describe the appropriate way to transfer, lift, and carry individuals of all ages who use a wheelchair. It contains 11 videos and is designed to be used by educators, parents, students, and caregivers.

Overview of Health Disabilities

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  • Severe health problems that require special medical and educational services
  • Known as Other Health Impairments under IDEA


1.38% of students receive special education services related to physical disabilities, however there is no specific number for the prevalence due to:
  • No national or state registries that are kept for physical disabilities
  • Some individuals have multiple conditions and are counted under the Multiple Severe Disabilities category under IDEA
  • Many students with physical disabilities do not require special education services

449,093 students between the ages of 6 and 21 have been identified as having a health disability.

Major Characteristics

  • Fatigue
  • Mobility problems
  • Inattention
  • Coordination difficulties
  • Muscle weakness
  • Reduced stamina

Characteristics that Interfere with Learning

  • Academic lag due to missed school as a result of doctor appointments/illness
  • Difficulties paying attention, especially for long periods of time
  • Missed class due to frequent visits to the nurse or other health professional
  • Fatigue and lack of motivation to complete assignments (may be due to medication side effects)
  • Social skills
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Health Disability Website Resources

Center for Disease Control and Prevention

This resource provides a comprehensive list of health disabilities and related information, as well as other relevant resources. Parents, educators, and students can use this resource to understand common health disabilities, including the symptoms and how to manage them.

Family Voices

Family Voices provides support for parents of children with health impairments. It includes articles on caring for a child with a health disability, ensuring your child has the necessary supports in all aspects of their lives, and managing the cost and burden of medical treatments.

RxmindMe iPhone/iPad App

This app allows the user to input their medication, and the times it must be taken. An alert is sent to the device when an individual must take their medication. This helps individuals with health impairments that require medication to keep track of when they need to take their medication so they do not miss a dose.
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Instructional Practices

Students with physical and health disabilities often have reduced stamina, excessive fatigue, and frequent absences from school due to medical appointments and hospital visits. Accommodations such as alternative instructional technology, schedule flexibility, and assigning a note-taker or proctor for a student with a physical or health disability can greatly impact a student's education.

Alternative Instructional Technology

Often times students with physical and health disabilities are unable to be in class due to medical complications or doctor appointments. If a physical or health condition is severe enough that a student cannot attend school for a long period of time, they have the option of participating in distance education where a student can continue to access the general education curriculum through technology. Programs like Skype allow a student to virtually attend a lecture, even if they are physically unable to attend. Options for completing and submitting assignments online or through e-mail are also excellent alternatives for students with this exceptionality because it allows them to keep up with their school work even though they are not in class.

For additional information:

Schedule Flexibility

Allowing for flexibility in a classroom schedule can greatly impact a student with physical and health disabilities. These disabilities often cause extreme fatigue, which can result from many factors, the most common being side effects of an illness, physical exertion, or medication. An educator can arrange the classroom schedule based on when a student with a physical or health disability is fatigued the most. For example, more challenging activities and subjects, such as mathematics, could be completed in the morning when the student is less fatigued, and less strenuous subjects, like art, could be completed in the afternoon when the student is experiencing fatigue. Consequently, the student is not missing valuable information as a result of their disability. Schedule flexibility can also include providing extended due dates for assignments.

For more information:


Students with physical and health disabilities may have difficulty writing due muscular impairments related to these disabilities. One way to overcome this challenge is to have a note-taker write notes for the student if they are physically unable to do so. Also, when a student with these impairments is fatigued, it may be difficult for them to pay attention to a lecture while simultaneously taking notes. Having a note-taker take notes for them instead allows the student to focus their remaining energy on the lecture. Additionally, if a student with a physical or health disability is frequently absent, having a peer note-taker ensures that they have access to the information discussed during the lecture they missed.

For more information:

Home Strategies

While accommodations in school are important, it is also equally as important to provide accommodations at home for a child with physical and health disabilities. Listed below are three strategies parents can utilize to improve the life of their child living with this exceptionality.

Clear Walkways and Secure Loose Objects

One very simple accommodation that many families fail to consider is pushing furniture out of the way and securing loose objects. Assistive devices such as wheelchairs, canes, and crutches require a large amount of space that is typically not provided in the traditional home. Rugs and other objects, such as toys that litter the floor, can also inhibit the use of these devices. To overcome these challenges, parents can push furniture close to the wall and ensure it is not sticking out to maximize space, as well as secure any loose rugs and move unnecessary objects out of walkways.

For more information:


It is important that your home have access to ramps and/or elevators, which are particularly important for children who require the use of canes, crutches, or wheelchairs. Stair lifts are also an excellent idea if installing a ramp or elevator is not feasible. These devices allow students with health and physical disabilities access to previously inaccessible areas of the home while still providing access to the stairs for individuals without these disabilities. These accommodations not only help children who use assistive devices, but for children who experience muscle weakness, fatigue, and reduced stamina frequently as a result of physical or health impairments. Often times children with these impairments find it extremely fatiguing to climb stairs, even if it is a short flight. Access to these accommodations is very beneficial for children with this exceptionality, as well as individuals without a disability.

For more information on the different types of stair lifts and ramps available visit:

Medication Schedule

Medication is often required to control the symptoms of many physical and health disabilities. Many of these medications are time sensitive and must be taken at specific times throughout the day. Developing a consistent schedule, as well as displaying the schedule, can help parents and their child plan their day around when the child needs to take their medication. By displaying the schedule, children can visually see when they need to take their medication, as well as remind parents that the medication needs to be taken.

For more information:


Bennett, K. S., & Hay, D. A. (2007). The Role of Family in the Development of Social Skills in Children with Physical Disabilities. International Journal Of Disability, Development And Education, 54(4), 381-397.

Comprehensive overview of other health impairments. (2007). Retrieved from National Association of Special Education Teachers:

Heller, K. W., & Swinehart-Jones, D. (2003). Supporting the Educational Needs of Students with Orthopedic Impairments. Physical Disabilities: Education And Related Services, 22(1), 3-24.

Kendall, R. M. (1991). Unique Educational Needs of Learners with Physical and Other Health Impairments.

Milota, C., PACER Center, I. M., & And, O. (1991). Count Me In: Resource Manual on Disabilities.

Physical disability. (2015, April 10). Retrieved from Department of Education and Early Childhood Development:

Other health impairments. (2014, May). Retrieved from Center for Parent Information and Resources:

Smith, D. D., & Tyler, N. C. (2014). Introduction to contemporary special education new horizons. Pearson Education.

Venn, J., & ERIC Clearinghouse on Handicapped and Gifted Children, R. V. (1989). Students with Physical Disabilities and Health Impairments. Revised. ERIC Digest #459.