VIII. Physical Disabilities
A. Basic Information
Physical impairment refers to a broad range of disabilities which include orthopedic, neuromuscular, cardiovascular and pulmonary disorders. People with these disabilities often must rely upon assertive devices such as wheelchairs, crutches, canes, and artificial limbs to obtain mobility. The physical disability may either be congenital or a result of injury, muscular dystrophy, multiple sclerosis, cerebral palsy, amputation, heart disease, pulmonary disease or more. Some persons may have hidden (nonvisible) disabilities which include pulmonary disease, respiratory disorders, epilepsy and other limiting conditions.
Although the cause of the disability may vary, persons with physical disabilities may face the following difficulties:
- Inability to gain access to inaccessible building or room.
- Decreased eye-hand coordination.
- Impaired verbal communication.
- Decreased physical stamina and endurance.
- If a person uses a wheelchair, conversations at different eye levels are difficult. If a conversation continues for more than a few minutes and if it is possible to do so, sit down, kneel, or squat and share eye level.
- A wheelchair is part of the person's body space. Do not automatically hang or lean on the chair; it is similar to hanging or leaning on the person. It is fine if you are friends but inappropriate otherwise.
- Using words like "walking" or "running" are appropriate. Sensitivity to these words is not necessary. People who use wheelchairs use the same words.
- When it appears that a person needs assistance, ask if you can help. Most persons will ask for assistance if they need it. Accept a "no thank you" graciously.
- Accept the fact that a disability exists. By not acknowledging this fact is the same as not acknowledging the person.
- People with physical disabilities are not "confined" to wheelchairs. They often transfer over to automobiles and to furniture. Some who use wheelchairs can walk with the aid of canes, braces, crutches or walkers. Using a wheelchair some of the time does not mean an individual is "faking" a disability. It may be a means to conserve energy or move about more quickly.
- If a person's speech is difficult to understand, do not hesitate to ask him/her to repeat.
Provide assistance if you are asked. Never come up behind a person who uses a wheelchair and push them. Always ask first while facing the person. Never take the door out of a person's hand to assist them in opening it, they may be using the door for balance. Always ask if you can help first.
Back to Contents