University of Texas at AustinDivision of Diversity and Community Engagement

Physical Disabilities

A variety of physical disabilities result from neuro-muscular and orthopedic impairments. These disabilities may be congenital or they may be the result of an accident or illness. They may include conditions such as spinal cord injury, paralysis, cerebral palsy, severe forms of arthritis, polio/post-polio, spina bifida, orthopedic injury, amputation, cardiac conditions, cystic fibrosis, later stages of AIDS, stroke, and muscular dystrophy.

The range of disabilities in this category is large. Functional abilities and limitations will vary widely, even within one disability group. Some conditions are such that the person experiences pain, spasticity, or lack of coordination. In other conditions there are intermittent flare-ups (when a student might be absent from class) and periods of remission, where the students seems to have no impairment of function (e.g., multiple sclerosis).

A number of students who use wheelchairs are able to stand but not walk. Some who use wheelchairs can walk with the aid of canes, crutches, braces, or walkers. Using a wheelchair may help these individuals conserve energy or move about more quickly. Some students who use wheelchairs have full use of their arms and hands, whereas others do not. Students with muscular and mobility impairments also may have a hearing or speech impairment (e.g., cerebral palsy). Others may tire very easily. Because of the vast differences among students, even when they have similar impairments, the best judge of what the students can or cannot do are the individuals themselves.

For more information, please see Working with Students with Physical Disabilities.