Strategies in Helping Students with Physical Disabilities in the Classroom Using IDEA

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Types of Disability

Under IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act) 1997 and amendments in 2004, students with physical disabilities may qualify for special education services. Physical disabilities can range from orthopedic limitations that impact movement and mobility to medical accommodations that may contribute to a student’s inability to move about the classroom or ability to fully participate in the learning process.

Students with medical conditions may have genetic conditions such as sickle cell anemia or onset leukemia that may require frequent hospitalizations that could prevent a student from attending school and require learning modifications when a student is able to attend class. Additional physical impairments could include students with orthopedic disabilities such as broken bones that could require extensive rehabilitation or students with missing limbs due to medical conditions that require special accommodations in the classroom for moving assistive devices around the classroom.

Students with disabilities may have the following impairments addressed under IDEA 2004 that may impede learning in school communities:

  • Orthopedic limitations
  • Visual impairments
  • Auditory impairments
  • Medical issues that may lead to physical disabilities
  • Mental disabilities
  • Cognitive impairments

Resources for Students with Physical Disabilities

Teachers and students must be open and flexible in welcoming a student with physical disabilities into the classroom. By incorporating the following expectations and resources in the daily routines for students navigating their educational journey with disabilities, the learning environment can be maximized for student success and access.

  • Create an environmental learning space that can accommodate wheelchairs and students using other assistive devices to navigate around the classroom.

  • Use assistive technology to provide adaptive technological equipment to enhance learning access for students. Assistive technology can include a modification of the computer equipment to include voice activated software or tutorial software for instructional modifications or actual equipment such as an adaptive mouse for students with motor coordinator issues.

  • Design student and resource staff professional development days to educate everyone in the school community on a student’s disability and its impact on the classroom environment and the school.

  • Have parent/student/resource staff conferences to ensure that the classroom is adapted to accommodate the needs of students with disabilities. Make sure that instructional modifications and physical accommodations are met as indicated in the student’s IEP (Individual Education Plan). The student’s IEP team must include teachers and other resource staff'’s (psychologists, OT personnel etc) input for greater accountability and implementation.

  • Have a resource room for students with physical disabilities to go to when needed during the school day to work with Instructional Assistants and Occupational therapists if indicated in the IEP, or when needed as a respite from the mainstream classroom.

IDEA provides the legal expectations for accommodations and modifications for students with physical disabilities, but it is up to the collective school community to provide implementation and the assurance that services and resources will be provided daily to provide an equitable and accessible education for society’s most vulnerable students.