Physical Disabilities

Challenges and Subjects – this link takes you to challenges and subjects associated with this disability.

Brief description of Physical Disabilities including Neurological Disabilities

Physical disabilities affecting students 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 students with physical disabilities, neurological conditions or acquired brain injury may have perceptual difficulties. Students 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 language acquisition and the development of literacy.

Characteristics Impacting on Learning and Teaching


The initial barrier experienced by many students 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 students get into the building? Can they get around when in it? Is there somewhere for students to rest or take breaks? Is the student able to reach the teaching and learning materials?

Perceptual Difficulties

Students with physical disabilities, neurological conditions or acquired brain injury may have perceptual difficulties, and these can take different forms. Some students have difficulty actually receiving information by seeing or hearing, while others can see or hear but cannot process the information they receive. This can cause difficulties with reading and writing, for example in locating the correct place on the page, or moving from left to right when reading or writing.

Speech/Communication Difficulties

Students with a neurological impairment, who stammer or have other speech and language difficulties, along with students 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 student’s intelligence and ability if their speech is very slow or slurred. The potential of these students often goes unrecognised.

Memory Difficulties

Memory difficulties may be a major issue faced by students who have acquired brain injury. Responses will need to relate directly and explicitly to individual learning goals, programmes of study and contexts. Early guidance should be given in relation to alternative ways of learning.

Students with short-term memory difficulties may find it very hard to remember instructions. Some students may have fluctuating memories, being able to complete a task in one session, but be unable to do it in another, making it difficult to record progress. Memory also affects students’ ability to sequence. Some students with long-term memory difficulties may not learn even after many repetitions and much practice, and appear to ‘start again’ each time. It is important to remember that memory difficulties do not correlate with a student’s intelligence.

Potential challenges to the achievement of learning


External resources