Students with disabilities in grades K-12 identified as having disabilities under IDEA represent 8.4% of all students enrolled in public education. Disability categories children are often placed in and national percentages for the 2011-12 school year were as follows:

Assistive Technology

For many students with disabilities, accessing and using standard computers and electronic resources can be challenging. For example, a student with a spinal cord injury may be unable to use a standard mouse and keyboard.

Psychiatric Impairments

Psychiatric or mental health impairments, which range from mild depression to chronic disorders such as schizophrenia or bipolar disorder, are “invisible” disabilities that can present challenges in an academic setting. Students with mental health impairments may have difficulty receiving, processing, and recalling information during times of stress; side effects from medication may impact their attention, memory, alertness, and activity level. The episodic and unpredictable onset and recurrence of illness can affect their class attendance or student employment. 

Mobility Impairments

Many types of orthopedic or neuromuscular impairments can impact mobility. These include, but are not limited to, amputation, paralysis, cerebral palsy, stroke, multiple sclerosis, muscular dystrophy, arthritis, and spinal cord injury. Lower body impairments may require the use of canes, walkers, or wheelchairs. Upper body impairments may include limited use or no use of the arms and hands.

Low Vision

Students with low vision, or partial sight, face a variety of challenges in an academic setting. They may be unable to read standard written materials, unable to see small objects, or able to see objects only within a specific field of vision. They may see images with sections missing, and text or objects may appear blurry.

Learning Disabilities

Students with specific learning disabilities have average to above-average intelligence, but may have difficulties acquiring and demonstrating knowledge and understanding. This often results in a significant discrepancy between age-related achievement levels and actual intellectual ability.

Health Impairments

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, and asthma, AIDS, and heart disease. Unless the condition is neurological in nature, health impairments are unlikely 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.

Deaf or Hard of Hearing

Functional hearing loss ranges from mild to profound. Often, people who have very little or no functional hearing refer to themselves as "deaf." Those with milder hearing loss may label themselves as "hard of hearing." When these two groups are combined, they are often referred to as individuals with "hearing impairments,” with "hearing loss,” or who are "hearing impaired.” When referring to the Deaf culture, "Deaf" is capitalized.


Students who are blind cannot access standard print or visual materials. Accommodations for students who are blind include computer software that reads text aloud, audio books and materials, course materials in Braille, and verbal descriptions of demonstrations and visual aids.

Autism Spectrum Disorders and Asperger Syndrome

Autism spectrum disorders and Asperger syndrome are neurological disorders characterized by significant difficulties with the use of language in social situations, poor social skills, and the presence of unusual and repetitive behaviors. Students with autism spectrum disorders or Asperger syndrome have normal intelligence and, in some cases, may demonstrate exceptional skills or talents in a specific area. But the social and communicative problems associated with these disorders often make social interactions, relationships, and participation in group situations difficult.


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