Module: Medical/Chronic Health Related Impairments (Page 1 of 10)


  1. Definition
  2. Manifestation
  3. Institutional Accommodations
  4. Assistive Technology Accommodations
  5. Teaching Strategies—
    What Can Faculty Do?
    1. Specific Strategies per Disability
    2. General Strategies
    3. Shaping the Environment
  6. Learning Strategies—
    What Can Students do?
  7. Resources
  8. Feedback


A long-standing illness for which there is no known cure. It is not immediately life threatening but can give rise to unpleasant and painful symptoms and can include waning and waxing of a variety of physical, mental and/or cognitive symptoms. Chronic illness may include but are not limited to:

  • A nervous system impairment that impacts movement or mobility.
  • A musculoskeletal condition.
  • A chronic health impairment that seriously impacts students’the students’ academic ability to achieve when compared to his or her peers.

Common chronic illness symptoms may include, but are not limited to:

  • Muscle weakness
  • Extreme fatigue
  • Anxiety and/or depression
  • Physical pain
  • Intellectual impairments that vary from day to day in severity
  • Diminished mental/emotional capacities


  • Decreased or varying academic performance.
  • Tardiness and absences.
  • Appearance of being disoriented or falling asleep in class.
  • Forgetting appointments, missing assignments and decreased academic performance.
  • Inability to access course materials and tools due to physical impairments such as muscle pain, weakness, decreased range of motion.
  • Inability to carry or access materials and tools due to muscle weakness, spasms and/or pain.
  • Decreased ability to focus on written materials when vision problems are symptomatic.
  • Decreased ability to interact with other students, maintain focus and/or attend class lectures when depression, anxiety and/or fatigue are symptomatic.

Institutional Accommodations

  • Accessible Transportation Services
  • Alternative Format
    • Textbooks and print materials can be converted to an alternative format that allows for less manipulation of books and materials for the student.
  • Alternative Testing Arrangements:
    • Extra time
    • Less distracting environment
    • Provision of a reader and/or scribe
    • use of a computer, including adaptive software and hardware
  • Note Taking Support
  • Ergonomic Evaluation
  • Priority Registration

Teaching Strategies—What Can Faculty do?

Specific Strategies per Disability

Clearly communicate your attendance policy
Decide whether or not a flexible attendance policy is acceptable; if not, make sure students are informed up front. Encourage a student who will not be able to regularly attend class to withdraw if attendance and class participation are critical to successful course completion.
Allow frequent breaks
Allow the student to take small, frequent breaks as needed.
Reinforce directions visually
Allow student to take test(s) in a different location with fewer distractions
The Disability Service Office will assist students in providing alternative arrangements.
Decrease height differential
When speaking for more than a few minutes with a student that uses a wheelchair, sit down or move back to create less of a height differential and allows for a more comfortable angle for conversation.

General Strategies

Provide Accessible Course Materials
Ensure that all curriculum materials (syllabus, notes, presentations, assignments, etc.) are available in an accessible format that can be used and manipulated by a computer (Word, HTML, RTF, PDF, etc.). To learn how to create accessible materials, see Training Modules and Tutorials on this website.
Plan Ahead
Select textbooks and materials needed for the semester as early as possible.  Students with disabilities will need time to take class materials to the Disability Service Office for conversion to an alternative format.
Provide Structure
Provide a syllabus and class assignments with clearly delineated expectations and due dates.
Provide Guided Notes on the Web
Prior to lectures, provide students with consistent, structured notes that are in an accessible format. Since students with disabilities sometimes have more difficulty than others in processing new information (especially while simultaneously trying to take notes), having notes ahead of time will increase students’ ability to follow along during class and more effectively process course content. If it is not acceptable for all students to have lecture notes ahead of time, make alternative arrangements for students with disabilities such as emailing lecture notes to the student(s) or setting up an office mailbox where the student(s) can receive notes ahead of time.
Provide Multiple Methods of Presentation
Present information and ideas in multiple ways in order to address different learning styles.
Engage students in multiple ways of learning
Incorporate active teaching/learning methods where possible. For example, problem-based learning activities, community projects, in-class activities and discussions, etc.
Encourage Multiple Methods of Expression
Offer more than one way for students to demonstrate what they have learned in class. For example, students can be given a choice between taking a test, writing a paper, giving an oral presentation, producing a video, etc. Additionally, keep in mind that some students may have difficulty working in a group. Alternative ways of completing a group assignment may need to be considered.
Repeat or paraphrase questions and responses so that the whole class can hear.
This is especially important in large classrooms and when a microphone is used during live and taped presentations.
Highlight Key Points
Provide an overview when introducing a new topic, and highlight key points in a variety of ways throughout class lessons and in written materials. Use visual, verbal and interactive cues for added emphasis. This helps students know what to expect and what is most important, thus improving their ability to achieve the learning objectives.
Summarize Key Points
Summarizing key points at the end of each class will increase the student’s ability to process and integrate new information.
Chunk Information
Break large amounts of information or instructions into smaller segments (“chunking”).
Provide Study Aids
Provide study questions, study guides, and opportunities for questions and answers to help students review and clarify essential course content.
Allow the use of digital recorders
Provide students the opportunity to process and review class material at their own pace, both after class and later during the semester. Review of material in this manner is especially helpful in preparation for mid-term and final exams.
Engage with Students who Self Advocate
Team up with students with disabilities (who disclose their accommodation needs) to determine a plan that is effective for all involved.

Shaping the Environment

Schedule classes and labs in accessible classrooms
Allow for students that use a wheelchair to enter the classroom, access the aisles and sit at desks or tables that are height appropriate. Decrease any clutter or barriers in the aisles or around desks.
Create an environment which minimizes fatigue and injury
Create a station where all needed materials are located in order to minimize movement around the classroom and/or ask a student to hand out materials. Set up lab/work stations with all equipment within reach.
Provide adjustable height and tilt tables
Position tables to be easily accessible, and do not allow them to be blocked by furniture, book bags, etc.
Provide natural or incandescent lighting
Turn off fluorescent lights and provide natural lighting, if possible.

Learning Strategies—What Can the Student do?

Advocate for self
Connect with the disability service office to learn about available services and supports. Communicate with instructors about personal learning style and any individual accommodations that are being requested. Students should also be encouraged to read the ACCESS Self-Advocacy Handbook for College Students with Disabilities, available on this website.
Consider alternative class formats
If class attendance is difficult, consider computer-based instruction or distance learning as alternatives.
Peer support
Seek out peer support of other students that may be experiencing similar challenges. Check with the DSO to find out about peer support groups. Find groups of people in your classes to study with that are respectful of your learning needs.
Plan ahead for accessible transportation
The Disability Service Office will need advance notice in order to arrange alternative transportation.
Plan ahead for books in alternative format
Books should be ordered one semester in advance of when they will be needed so as to allow time for format conversion. The Disability Service Office will be able to help with this process.
Record class lectures
Ask professors for permission to record class lectures.

Resources — Medical/Chronic Health Related Impairments

Information on resources, research, treatment, and services.
Access Board Accessibility Specifications of Buildings
News archives, rules and notices, reports.
Access Unlimited
Resources on mobility impairments and other disabilities.
American Burn Association
Information and resources from the ABA.
American Cancer Society
General information about cancer.
American Diabetes Association
General information about diabetes.
Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS)
Provides general information as well as a resource directory that offers an array of related information.
Arthritis Foundation
General information about arthritis.
Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America (AAFA)
Provides general information, news, support groups and a resource catalog for asthma and allergy-related topics.
Disability-Related Resources on the Internet
A comprehensive list of Web sites and discussion lists related to disability.
Easter Seals National Office
Resources for people with various disabilities.
Epilepsy Foundation of America
General information, research, advocacy services, marketplace and electronic communities.
Equal Access to Software and Information (EASI)
Workshops, publications, and resources about computer access for people with disabilities
Guillain-Barre Syndrome Foundation International
Information and resources on Guillain-Barre Syndrome.
Lupus Foundation of America
A comprehensive research and communication tool providing information and support.
Multiple Sclerosis Foundation, Inc. (MSF)
General information on Multiple Sclerosis and mailing list options.
Muscular Dystrophy Association (MDA)
General information on Muscular dystrophy
National Organization for Rare Disorders (NORD)
Rare diseases database that provides information and resources on hundreds of rare diseases.
National Spinal Cord Injury Association
Information and resources regarding spinal cord injuries.
Spina Bifida Association
News and resources on spina bifida.
Tourette Syndrome Association, Inc.
Educational materials, support services and research on Tourette Syndrome.
Trace Research and Development Center
An interdisciplinary research, development and resource center on technology and disability "to advance the ability of people with disabilities to achieve their life objectives through the use of communication, computer and information technologies."
United Cerebral Palsy Association
Information and resources related to cerebral palsy.
Working Together: Computers and People with Mobility Impairments
Video presentation and publication featuring computer access technology for people with mobility impairments.

General Disability Resources

Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)
ADA Home Page (U.S. Department of Justice)
ERIC Digest
Overview of ADA, IDEA, and Section 504
Equal Access to Software and Information (EASI)
Workshops, publications, and resources about computer access for people with disabilities
University of Washington - Disability-Related Resources on the Internet
A comprehensive list of Web sites and discussion lists related to disability.
Faculty Room
The Faculty Room is a site for faculty and administrators at postsecondary institutions to learn about how to create classroom environments and activities that maximize the learning of all students, including those with disabilities. This page is specific to faculty rights.
PACER Center – Champions for Children with Disabilities
ADA Q& A: Section 504 & Postsecondary Education
U.S Department of Education, Office of Civil Rights
Three documents by the Office of Civil Rights describing the rights of wounded warriors to a postsecondary education under the new GI Bill:
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS),
Office of Civil Rights (OCR)
Discrimination on the Basis of Disability
U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC)
Titles I and V of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA)

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