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Physical Disability


What is a physical disability?

A physical disability is the long-term loss or impairment of part of the body’s physical function. It can involve difficulties with walking and mobility, sitting and standing, use of hands and arms, sight, hearing, speech, breathing, bladder control, muscle control, sleeping, fits and seizures or chronic tiredness. A physical disability may be genetic. It can also come about through something that happened before or during birth or later in life through an illness or injury. A physical disability may be obvious, such as loss of a limb, or less obvious, for example, epilepsy.

There are many physical disabilities that can affect children, such as delayed walking, deafness or visual impairment. There are other conditions that may not traditionally be seen a disabilities but are chronic in nature and can therefore have a chronic affect on a child's development in other ways, such as lost days at school, the inability to fully take part in physical activities or the need to take medication regularly.

Children with sensory or physical needs may find it hard to access a school due to their disability. This means that they may need extra support or specialist equipment. For some children with physical disabilities, potential barriers to learning and participation may need to be identified and additional arrangements and support will be needed to overcome these.


The SEN Code of Practice gives this definition:

Many children and young people who have SEN may have a disability under the Equality Act 2010 - that is '...a physical or mental impairment which has a long term and substantial adverse on their ability to carry out normal day to day activities'.


When a child’s disability or additional need is identified at birth (or even in the womb) the doctor or midwife will refer you to a specialist at the hospital who can help you understand the implications of the diagnosis. You will be informed as to how the disability or additional need will affect the development of your child and how best to accommodate their needs during early life. This is typical of conditions like Down’s syndrome.

Other types of disability, special educational needs or medical conditions are not immediately obvious and are identified later in a child’s life - for example a hearing or vision impairment or learning difficulty.

If you are concerned that your child may have problems with co-ordination or mobility or any other type of physical disability, it is advisable to talk to your GP or health visitor. It is important that any potential physical disabilities are identified as soon as possible so that appropriate treatment and support can be provided.

The first point of contact to understand your child's diagnosis of special educational needs or a disability is your GP and any specialists your child has been referred to. You will then receive ongoing support from the specialist services who will help you come to grips with how a disability or additional need will affect your child’s daily life, what kinds of educational provision your child may need and what services are available to you as a parent.

Support available

There is a wide range of support available for children with a physical disability, which can be found in our directory.

Last reviewed: 28/09/2017

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