Physical Disability

How does IDEA define Physical Disabilities?

There are three categories of disability in IDEA which might involve physical disabilities. They are orthopedic impairment, traumatic brain injury, other health impairment and multiple disabilities. Here are the specific definitions from section 300.7(c) of the IDEA regulations.

  • (7) Multiple disabilities means concomitant impairments (such as mental retardation-blindness, mental retardation-orthopedic impairment, etc.), the combination of which causes such severe educational needs that they cannot be accommodated in special education programs solely for one of the impairments. The term does not include deaf-blindness.
  • (8) Orthopedic impairment means a severe orthopedic impairment that adversely affects a child's educational performance. The term includes impairments caused by congenital anomaly (e.g., clubfoot, absence of some member, etc.), impairments caused by disease (e.g.,poliomyelitis, bone tuberculosis, etc.), and impairments from other causes (e.g., cerebral palsy, amputations, and fractures or burns that cause contractures)
  • (9) Other health impairment means having limited strength, vitality or alertness, including a heightened alertness to environmental stimuli, that results in limited alertness with respect to the educational environment, that- 
    • (i) Is due to chronic or acute health problems such as asthma, attention deficit disorder or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, diabetes, epilepsy, a heart condition, hemophilia, lead poisoning, leukemia, nephritis, rheumatic fever, and sickle cell anemia; and
    • (ii) Adversely affects a child's educational performance.
  • (12) Traumatic brain injury means an acquired injury to the brain caused by an external physical force, resulting in total or partial functional disability or psychosocial impairment, or both, that adversely affects a child's educational performance. The term applies to open or closed head injuries resulting in impairments in one or more areas, such as cognition; language; memory; attention; reasoning; abstract thinking; judgment; problem-solving; sensory, perceptual, and motor abilities; psychosocial behavior; physical functions; information processing; and speech. The term does not apply to brain injuries that are congenital or degenerative, or to brain injuries induced by birth trauma. 

Students with physical/systemic/other health disabilities have the same range of intelligence as anyone else does. However, due to the individual effects of their disabilities, they may need a modified classroom/campus environment for physical access and assistive technology for information access. In addition, they may learn and/or express what they have learned in a different way and perhaps at a different rate. All benefit from multi-sensory teaching methods where they have an opportunity to learn in different ways and demonstrate what they know in different ways.

Common Assistive Technology Devices used by Children with Physical Disabilities

A student with a physical disability may have trouble with almost any functional life skill depending on how the disability affects motor function. Below is a list of functional life skills from the Overview of Assistive Technology . Click on the functional life skill to find more information about assistive technology tools that can help.

Functional Life Skills:

Other Physical Disability Websites

Special Education and Rehabilitation Internet Resources: Physical Disabilities Sites