Physical Impairment

Physical impairment can be defined as a dysfunction of the musculoskeletal and/or neurological body systems, which affects the functional ability of a student to move or co-ordinate movement.

There is a wide range of conditions that may result in physical impairment including cerebral palsy, spina bifida, muscular dystrophy, arthritis, osteogenesis imperfect, congenital malformation of the limbs, some acquired brain injuries or some orthopaedic conditions.

A physical impairment may be present from birth (congenital) or acquired later (e.g through an accident or illness). It can be progressive or non-progressive. The latter refers to whether or not the condition increases in extent or severity.

Disabled children and students can access any early years setting or school. Staff are expected to make reasonable adjustments to make sure the classroom and site is safe, secure and accessible. Staff will need to regularly review accessibility from different perspectives; a child in a wheelchair may have different needs from a child with a walking aid. Students, children and families can contribute ideas for improving accessibility in the classroom, across the school site and in relation to the journey to and from school.

Children with physical impairments may need specific resources and specialist aids to support their access to the curriculum. These might range from a pair of glasses to a touchscreen computer. Physiotherapists, occupational therapists and technical specialists can provide advice, support and information to help make sure a child can access the curriculum. They will know what equipment and services are available and can suggest possible options. Collecting evidence of need from different professionals working with the child or young person can be helpful when looking for funding for specialist pieces of equipment.

Disability Rights



It’s against the law for employers to discriminate against you because of a disability. The Equality Act 2010 protects you and covers areas including:

  • application forms
  • interview arrangements
  • aptitude or proficiency tests
  • job offers
  • terms of employment, including pay
  • promotion, transfer and training opportunities
  • dismissal or redundancy
  • discipline and grievances
Reasonable Adjustments in the Workplace

An employer has to make ‘reasonable adjustments’ to avoid you being put at a disadvantage compared to non-disabled people in the workplace. For example, adjusting your working hours or providing you with a special piece of equipment to help you do the job.


An employer who’s recruiting staff may make limited enquiries about your health or disability.

You can only be asked about your health or disability:

  • to help decide if you can carry out a task that is an essential part of the work
  • to help find out if you can take part in an interview
  • to help decide if the interviewers need to make reasonable adjustments for you in a selection process
  • to help monitoring
  • if they want to increase the number of disabled people they employ
  • if they need to know for the purposes of national security checks

You may be asked whether you have a health condition or disability on an application form or in an interview. You need to think about whether the question is one that is allowed to be asked at that stage of recruitment.

Redundancy and Retirement

You can’t be chosen for redundancy just because you’re disabled. The selection process for redundancy must be fair and balanced for all employees.

Your employer cannot force you to retire if you become disabled.



It’s against the law for a school or other education provider to treat disabled students unfavourably. This includes:

  • ‘direct discrimination’ - eg refusing admission to a student because of disability
  • ‘indirect discrimination’ - eg only providing application forms in one format that may not be accessible
  • ‘discrimination arising from a disability’ - eg a disabled pupil is prevented from going outside at break time because it takes too long to get there
  • ‘harassment’ - eg a teacher shouts at a disabled student for not paying attention when the student’s disability stops them from easily concentrating
  • victimisation – eg suspending a disabled student because they’ve complained about harassment
Reasonable Adjustments

An education provider has a duty to make ‘reasonable adjustments’ to make sure disabled students are not discriminated against. These changes could include:

  • changes to physical features - for example, creating a ramp so that students can enter a classroom
  • providing extra support and aids (such as specialist teachers or equipment)
Special Education Needs (SEN)

All publicly-funded pre-schools, nurseries, state schools and local authorities must try to identify and help assess children with Special Educational Needs.

If a child has a statement of special educational needs, they should have a ‘transition plan’ drawn up in Year 9. This helps to plan what support the child will have after leaving school.

Higher Education

All universities and higher education colleges should have a person in charge of disability issues that you can talk to about the support they offer.

You can also ask local social services for an assessment to help with your day-to-day living needs.

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