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 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.

Health impairments can result in a range of academic challenges for a student. Problems may include missing classes for unpredictable and prolonged time periods, difficulty attending classes full-time or on a daily basis, or mobility impairments. Health problems may also interfere with the physical skills needed to complete laboratory, computer, or writing assignments. For example, students with arthritis may have difficulty writing, while students with multiple sclerosis may not be able to manipulate small laboratory equipment or complete tasks that require precise measuring, graphing, or drawing.


Flexibility plays a key role in supporting the success of students with health impairments, as many health conditions are unpredictable. Providing course outlines with clear information about readings, materials, assignments, and exams can help the student plan, organize, and prioritize his course requirements. Prior knowledge of deadlines and exams may help the student plan doctor appointments and/or medical procedures.

For students with illnesses that make regular class attendance difficult, computer-based instruction, distance learning, posting class information online, and other options that minimize travel and classroom-based instruction provide feasible alternatives.

Typical accommodations for students who have health impairments include:

  • note takers
  • recorded class sessions or meetings
  • flexible attendance requirements
  • extended exam time
  • alternative testing arrangements
  • assignments available in electronic format
  • email for supervisor- and instructor-student meetings and for class or small group discussions
  • web-based or email distribution of course materials, lecture notes, and other documents
  • environments that minimize fatigue and injury
  • an ergonomic workstation with adjustable keyboard trays, monitor risers, glare guards, foot rests, adjustable chairs, and/or anti-fatigue matting
  • speech recognition computer input devices, ergonomic keyboards, one-handed keyboards, expanded keyboards, or miniature keyboards

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

Specific Academic Activities

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