Resource Guide for students with physical disabilities

Thanks to disability laws, students with physical disabilities can achieve a college education. Read this guide to find resources for navigating higher education.
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  • According to the CDC, 1 in 4 U.S. adults lives with a disability.
  • Students with disabilities often face some barriers when attending college.
  • Legislation protects access to accommodations for students with disabilities.
  • Students with physical disabilities can attend and successfully complete college.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 1 in 4 adults in the United States has a disability that impacts their lives. Mobility, the most common category of disability, includes activities like walking and climbing stairs.

Physical disabilities shouldn’t stop a student from attending a college or university. In fact, laws and accommodations are in place to allow students with physical disabilities to pursue their college dreams alongside their peers.

Read on to learn about the transition to higher education and available accommodations and resources.

What are common disabilities?

  • Cerebral palsy: Cerebral palsy is the most common childhood motor disability, according to the CDC. Cerebral palsy affects movement and balance. Half of children with cerebral palsy can walk independently.
  • Multiple sclerosis: MS, an unpredictable disease, affects the central nervous system. Scarring and damage to myelin disrupt communications between the brain, nerves, and spinal cord. Common symptoms include fatigue, numbness, loss of motor function, and altered cognitive function, such as memory loss. The varied symptoms of MS can be temporary or long lasting.
  • Muscular dystrophy: Muscular dystrophy refers to a group of muscle diseases in which decreased muscle strength reduces mobility and the ability to perform daily tasks. Different types of muscular dystrophy affect different muscles.
  • Musculoskeletal conditions: Musculoskeletal conditions can affect movement. These include carpal tunnel syndrome, tendonitis, degenerative disc disease, and arthritis. Arthritis is a musculoskeletal disorder where individuals experience inflammation in at least one joint. This can cause pain, swelling, and stiffness. Various types of arthritis can cause some people to experience a lower range of motion.
  • Deafness, hard of hearing: Some people experience mild hearing loss. Others have a more profound lack of hearing ability. Getting help with note taking, lip reading, and sign language are some of the processes that enable deaf and hard-of-hearing students to pursue their education. Deaf people do not all consider deafness a disability.
  • Vision impairment: Vision impairment can present a challenge to learning, working, and socializing because of the reliance most academic environments place on vision and their inflexibility in accommodating other methods of communicating. Sight-related impairments, which are wide ranging, can affect visual range, clarity, and color perception. Some people with vision impairments may be considered legally blind, totally blind, or color blind. Or they may have partial vision.
  • Paraplegia, quadriplegia, and hemiplegia: With paralysis, a person can’t move a part of their body. It can be temporary or permanent. This can be due to nerve damage, disease, or injury. There are different types of paralysis. Paraplegics, for example, lack sensation below their waists, while quadriplegics lack sensations and movement below their neck. Hemiplegics experience paralysis in half of their body.
  • Acquired brain injury: ABI refers to any brain damage or injury that occurs after birth. This can occur for a variety of reasons, including head trauma, oxygen deprivation, disease, or infection. ABI may impact an individual long term and be classified from mild to severe. People dealing with ABI may experience mental or physical fatigue. They may display behavioral changes or changes in their abilities and manage other cognitive challenges related to memory, focus, and communication. ABI is not the same as an intellectual disability, nor does ABI refer to mental illnesses.

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