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Health Impairments

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There are a range of medical diagnoses and subsequent health problems that can have a temporary or chronic impact on a student's academic performance. Common diagnoses include arthritis, cancer, Multiple Sclerosis, Asthma, AIDS, and heart disease. Unless the condition is neurological in nature, health impairments are not likely to directly affect learning. However, the secondary effects of illness and the side effects of medications can have a significant impact on memory, attention, strength, endurance, and energy levels.

Health impairments can result in a range of academic challenges for a student. Problems may include missing class for unpredictable and prolonged time periods and difficulties attending classes full-time or on a daily basis. Health problems may also interfere with the physical skills needed to complete laboratory, computer, or writing assignments. Individuals with arthritis, for example, may have difficulty writing due to pain or joint deformities, making it a challenge for them to meet the writing requirements for some classes. Students with Multiple Sclerosis may not be able to manipulate small laboratory equipment or complete tasks that require precise measuring, graphing, or drawing. Prolonged sitting may pose challenges for an individual with chronic pain or back problems. Illness or injury may result in limitations in mobility which require the need to use a wheelchair or scooter for mobility. Some students must avoid specific activities that trigger their conditions. For example, a student with asthma may need to avoid specific inhalants in a lab.

Instructor flexibility plays a key role in supporting the success of students with health impairments as many health conditions by nature are unpredictable. The provision of course outlines with clear and well organized information regarding readings, materials, assignments, and exams can help the student plan, organize, and prioritize his course requirements. Posting information on the Web is another way for a student to acquire important information without the need to be physically present in class. Prior knowledge of deadlines and exams may help the student plan doctor appointments and/or medical procedures around important class dates.

Computer-based instruction, distance learning, and other options that minimize travel and classroom-based instruction provide feasible alternatives for students with illnesses that make regular class attendance difficult.

Examples of typical accommodations for students who have health impairments include:

When health conditions result in permanent or temporary mobility problems, accommodations for students with mobility impairments may be appropriate.

Check Your Understanding
Consider the following example. A key part of your class involves weekly discussion and peer critique of other students' written work. How can you accommodate a student with a health impairment who misses class frequently for medical reasons? Choose a response.

  1. Encourage the student to withdraw from the course due to the importance of class attendance and interactive work.

  2. Provide a forum for an electronic discussion.

  3. Audiotape each class and allow the student to review missed sessions.

  4. Use a notetaker.

Specific Activities
For the student with health impairments, needs vary greatly by individual and by academic activity. Specific academic activities that may pose challenges include: