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Physical Disabilities

Physical disabilities can be temporary or permanent, fluctuating, stable or degenerative, and may affect parts of the body or the whole of it.

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Brief description of Physical Disabilities

Detailed description of examples of Physical Disabilities

How Physial Disabilities can impact on learning, teaching and training

Brief description of Physical Disabilities

Physical disabilities affecting people can take many different forms. They can be temporary or permanent, fluctuating, stable or degenerative, and may affect parts of the body or the whole of it. Some learners with physical disabilities, neurological conditions or acquired brain injury may have perceptual difficulties. People may have experienced barriers to learning that relate to negative perceptions of their disability and low expectations. They may also have missed out on vital stages of learning during their schooling, affecting their language acquisition and the development of literacy.

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Detailed description of examples of Physical Disabilities

Cerebral Palsy

Cerebral Palsy is caused by damage to the motor control centres of the young developing brain and can occur during pregnancy (about 75 percent), during childbirth (about 5 percent) or after birth up to about the age of three (about 15 percent).

It is a non-progressive disorder, meaning the brain damage does not worsen, but secondary orthopaedic difficulties are common. The effects of cerebral palsy fall on a continuum of motor dysfunction which may range from virtually unnoticeable to "clumsy" and awkward movements on one end of the spectrum to such severe impairments that coordinated movements are almost impossible on the other end of the spectrum.

Muscular Dystrophy

Muscular dystrophy refers to a group of genetic, hereditary muscle diseases that cause progressive muscle weakness. Some cases may be mild and progress very slowly over a normal lifespan, while others produce severe muscle weakness, functional disability, and loss of the ability to walk.

Cystic Fibrosis

Cystic Fibrosis (CF) is the UK's most common life-threatening inherited disease and affects over 8,000 people in the UK. Over two million people in the UK carry the faulty gene that causes Cystic Fibrosis - around 1 in 25 of the population. If two carriers have a child, the baby has a 1 in 4 chance of having Cystic Fibrosis.

Cystic Fibrosis affects the internal organs, especially the lungs and digestive system, by clogging them with thick sticky mucus. This makes it hard to breathe and digest food.

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How Physical Disabilities can impact on learning, teaching and training


The initial barrier experienced by many learners with physical disabilities is physically accessing the learning environment itself. For many the inaccessibility of buildings is a problem, so there are important questions to ask: Can individuals get into the building? Can they get around when in it? Is there somewhere for people to rest or take breaks? Is the learner able to reach the teaching and learning materials?  

Mobility difficulties 

Some students will have physical disabilities that mean they are unable to undertake the same range of physical activities as other people. This includes people who have difficulty walking, or people with restricted growth. These individuals may use wheelchairs, canes, braces and other assistive devices. Some people with a mobility disability become fatigued easily or may have intense pain that is controlled with medication, which could also cause negative side effects. 

Manual Dexterity Difficulties

Those whose arms and or hands are affected can experience difficulties with opening doors, reaching for and/or carrying books, writing using equipment etc. Many learners with manual dexterity difficulties can benefit from ergonomic adaptations to equipment and assistive technology.

Speech/Communication Difficulties 

Individuals with a neurological impairment, who stammer or have other speech and language difficulties, along with those who are deaf or who have partial hearing, may all have difficulty communicating through speech.

People with communication difficulties are often thought to be far less able than they really are. It is important to check personal responses to ensure there are no automatic assumptions being made concerning a learner’s intelligence and ability if their speech is very slow or slurred as their potential often goes unrecognised. 

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