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Medical disabilities

Teaching students with medical disabilities

Some students experience serious difficulties as a result of medical conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, cancer, multiple sclerosis, Crohn’s disease, diabetes or other long-term illnesses. Students living with these types of illnesses may face challenges including fatigue, difficulty concentrating, memory problems and pain. Such conditions commonly require students to take medication, many of which result in serious side effects that impact the student’s ability to function to their best ability.

Chronic medical illnesses are often worsened by stress and it is important for students living with these conditions to carefully monitor their responsibilities and activities. It is particularly important for them to balance academic course load with other vocational and recreational aspects of life.

How can Student Accessibility Services (SAS) staff provide support?

Medical conditions are individual. The most effective way to determine how it affects a student is to speak with him/her about his/her personal circumstances. Individual needs will depend on:

  • The medical condition itself.
  • Its severity and long-term effects.
  • The treatment requirements and side effects.
  • Coping strategies.
  • Technologies and devices available.
  • Environmental demands.

What can teaching staff do to offer assistance?

The following strategies may assist students with medical disabilities:

  • It is important for students to choose a course load they will be able to manage successfully, based on their understanding of the effects of their medical conditions. There may be times when medical conditions will prevent students from attending class or submitting an assignment on time. The understanding and flexibility for situations like this is vital in supporting the student to make alternative arrangements.
  • Medical conditions are not stable and predictable; conditions can change from day to day. Faculty should speak with students to understand their individual circumstances.
  • Some medical conditions such as epilepsy, diabetes, Tourette’s Syndrome and Crohn’s disease could potentially present symptoms in the classroom. It is vitally important for faculty to understand the issues that could come up, and know how to respond.
  • Early mornings can present particular challenges for students with conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis and lupus, since students with these conditions could take time to achieve an optimum level of mobility. Flexibility with classroom scheduling can be beneficial in these instances.
  • Providing records of lecture information can be very helpful for students with medical disabilities, since the ability to concentrate can be affected by medication, fatigue and pain.
  • When possible, reinforce main ideas. Give cues to the students that particular information is important. Review key concepts frequently to ensure they are understood.
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