Students with
Physical Impairments

at Florida Atlantic University

An Informational Brochure from the
Office for Students with Disabilities
Division of Student Affairs



A physical impairment is defined as any disability which substantially limits the physical function of limbs or fine or gross motor abilities. These limitations may impact strength, speed, endurance, coordination, manual dexterity and overall mobility. Cerebral palsy, multiple sclerosis, muscular dystrophy, partial or total paralysis, stroke, poliomyelitis, arthritis, amputation and carpal tunnel syndrome are all examples of physical impairments. Medical conditions such as autoimmune illnesses, HIV/AIDS, active sickle cell disease, cancer, cystic fibrosis and respiratory/cardiac diseases may consequently impair physical functioning.



Cerebral Palsy (CP) is caused by an injury to the motor center of the brain, which may have occurred before, during or shortly after birth. The injury results in disorders of posture or movement. Manifestations can include involuntary muscle contractions, rigidity, spasms, poor coordination, poor balance or poor spatial relations. Visual, auditory, speech, hand-function or seizure disorders may also be present.



Multiple Sclerosis (MS) is a progressive disease of the central nervous system characterized by a decline of muscle control. Symptoms range from mild to severe and may include visual impairment, tremors, weakness or numbness in limbs, unsteady gait, paralysis, slurred speech, mood swings, or attention deficits. Periodic remissions are common and may last from a few days to several months as the disease continues to progress. Students should not be penalized for missed classes as long as class assignments and exams are completed in a timely manner.



Muscular Dystrophy refers to a group of hereditary, progressive disorders that most often occur with young people, producing degeneration of voluntary muscles of the trunk and extremities. Atrophying of muscles results in chronic weakness and fatigue and may cause respiratory or cardiac problems. Walking, if possible, is slow. Manipulation of materials in class may be difficult.



Physical access to classrooms is a major concern for students with mobility impairments. The student must learn routes to and from classes and across campus that do not present barriers. Types of barriers may include: stairs, a curb, a narrow walkway, a heavy door, an elevator door that has a defective delay mechanism or a vehicle blocking a ramp. Those who fatigue easily or who use wheelchairs, braces, crutches, canes or prostheses have difficulty ambulating, especially with time constraints of class schedules. Some students may have difficulty sitting for extended periods of time. Occasional lateness or absence may be caused by van service difficulties, special public transport delays, difficulties locating disabled parking, inclement weather, maneuvering along crowded paths and corridors, waiting for assistance in opening doors (unless electric doors are available) or elevator or wheelchair breakdown. Most students will be aware of time constraints and will schedule classes accordingly.



  • Discuss with the student whether physical access to a classroom (or time constraints between scheduled classes) is problematic.
  • Be prepared to arrange for a change of classroom or building if a class site is not


accessible; also, be prepared to move class

temporarily if an elevator is not in service.

  • Encourage students to familiarize themselves with the building’s evacuation plan and assure its manageability.
  • When determining seating arrangements, every effort should be made to integrate students with physical impairments into the classroom. Assigning students to a doorway, a side aisle or the back of the room should be avoided. You may simply need to provide a wider aisle and an adjustable table in lieu of a desk. (Adjustable tables are available from OSD)
  • Laboratory stations too high for wheelchair users to reach or that lack sufficient under-counter knee clearance may need to be modified, or they may need to be replaced by portable stations.
  • If a student has limitations in manual dexterity and/or utilizes a mobility device and needs assistance performing lab experiments and/or writing assignments and has not registered with the OSD, encourage the student to register with OSD so accommodations can be provided.
  • You can supply a laboratory partner (another student in class) or a laboratory assistant can be provided by OSD. The student can give all instructions to the partner/assistant and can learn everything except the physical manipulation of lab equipment.
  • Keep in mind class changes, internships, student teaching and required event attendance may necessitate advance preparation to ensure site accessibility. If a class involves field work or field trips, special arrangements will have to be made by the student who requires an attendant or an adapted van for transportation.



To be eligible for academic accommodations at Florida Atlantic University, a student must apply for services from the Office for Students with Disabilities (OSD). Academic accommodations are determined based on self-report of the disability and effective prior accommodations; observation and interaction with OSD counselor, as well as disability documentation submitted by the student. The documentation must be in the form of either a medical report or practitioner’s letter. The diagnosis must be made by a practitioner qualified to make this diagnosis. The documentation must state a student’s specific diagnosis and should include anticipated effects of the student’s functional limitations within the academic setting as well as suggestions for accommodating the student.

The evaluation must have been conducted within the last two years; however, the OSD reserves the right to make modifications to this time frame.



After a student has submitted an Application for Support Services and appropriate documentation of a disability to the OSD, the student will meet with an OSD counselor for an intake interview. During the intake, the student will be asked to provide information about her or his experience of disability, barriers he or she has encountered, as well as effective and ineffective prior accommodations. Appropriate accommodations are then determined based on an interactive process between the student and OSD counselor.


The student may be eligible for one or more of the following accommodations:

  • Advocacy
  • Professor notification
  • Notetaking assistance
  • Audio recording of classes
  • Breaks as needed
  • Technological aids (e.g., speech recognition software, OCR software, alternative computer input device)
  • Adjustable tables
  • Access to classrooms and labs, activities, internships and other resources
  • Exam adaptations (e.g., extended time to take exams, distraction-reduced setting, scribe, use of computer)

These accommodations are necessary for ensuring complete access to, and full participation in, the educational process. Academic standards are not to be lowered, nor should there be an alteration in the essential nature of the course or degree requirements.

Note: Professors will be notified of the student’s approved accommodations in an OSD Letter of Notification presented by the student. If the student is not registered with the OSD, please refer her or him to the office.


 Last Modified 8/27/15