Other Disabilities

A number of students registered at Rutgers University have disabilities that do not specifically fall into the major categories previously discussed. The degree to which these disabilities affect students academically varies widely. At times it is the medication which is required to control symptoms that impairs a student’s academic performance, rather than the condition itself. Common side effects of medications include fatigue, memory loss, shortened attention span, loss of concentration, and drowsiness. The degree of impairment may also vary from time to time because of the nature of the disability or the medication that is taken. Some conditions are stable while others may be progressive.


Most people with epilepsy are now able to participate in activities such as sports and lead active, normal lives. Students with epilepsy generally manage seizure activity through adequate rest, proper diet, and regular medication, and have few problems in the classroom.
The following is a short list of do's and don'ts included here so that the instructor will be prepared in the unlikely event that a seizure occurs during class.

  1. Remain calm. Please keep in mind that other students will tend to mirror the emotional reaction of the instructor. Note: the seizure is painless.
  2. Do not try to restrain the person. There is nothing you can do to stop the seizure once it has begun. It must run its course.
  3. Clear the area around the individual so that he/she does not injure him/herself on hard or sharp objects. Try not to interfere with movements in any way.
  4. Don't force anything between the person's teeth. If the person's mouth is already opened, you might place a soft object like a handkerchief between the side teeth.
  5. It isn't generally necessary to call a doctor unless the attack is followed almost immediately by another major seizure or the seizure lasts more than ten minutes.
  6. When the seizure is over, let the person rest if he/she needs to.
  7. Turn the incident into a learning experience for the class. You might clarify that the seizure is not contagious and explain these steps.

Multiple Sclerosis

Multiple sclerosis (MS) is the number one cause of chronic disability among young adults. It may affect the student in a multitude of ways. Because MS most often occurs between the ages of 20 and 40, the college student with MS is apt to be currently adjusting to having a disability. Depending upon the degree to which the MS has progressed, the student's mobility, speech, vision, and emotional state may be affected. One of the most difficult aspects of MS is that the symptoms have a tendency to come and go but they continue to progress. "In between" periods may last for a few days to months in the early stages. When affected the student may appear as if intoxicated--slurred speech, staggering when walking, and unfocused eyes. Understanding the fluctuations that may occur in the student's behavior makes it easier to understand variations in classroom performance. The physical adaptations required by the student with MS, if any, will vary from student to student, depending on functional limitation. The most common adaptations required have been discussed in previous sections.

Fluctuating Symptoms

Other conditions that may result in marked fluctuations of behavior and performance include muscular dystrophy, certain types of kidney problems that may necessitate dialysis, AIDS/HIV, cystic fibrosis, diabetes, and lupus.


Chronic pain may result in limitations in a student’s ability to sit for long periods of time in the classroom. In addition, there may be some loss of strength or difficulties standing, walking, climbing, kneeling, stooping, and carrying even mildly heavy objects. The onset of pain may increase with cold weather or sudden changes in temperature. Students with chronic pain may need to stand or change positions intermittently during class. Therefore, they may ask to be seated in a part of the room where these movements will not be disruptive to the rest of the class or to the instructor. Students may also contact the ODS to request certain chairs/tables to mitigate the discomfort. Severe pain may cause an increased number of absences for the student. He or she is still required to complete course assignments.

Respiratory Disorders

Some respiratory disorders can result in significant limitations to activities such as walking and climbing. Persons with these disorders often show a limited tolerance to temperature changes or extremes in temperature, wet or humid conditions, fumes, dust, and smoke.


Some of the conditions described in this section require medication for control of symptoms. If an instructor has questions about the potential affect of any medications on the student's academic performance, the student can probably provide this information. However, for confidentiality reasons, students always have the choice about what to disclose and not disclose.

Permission to Leave Class

Some disabilities result in the need to consume large amounts of fluids, to urinate more frequently than other students, to move about more than is possible in the classroom to relieve pain, or to take medication or give self-injections during a class period. As a result, the student may need to leave the classroom more frequently than other students.

Considerations for Hidden Disabilities

Many disabilities are obvious and the question then is one of degree of accommodation and assistance required. However, there are many cases in which a faculty member would have no immediate way of knowing that a student has a disability. For example, a student with diabetes, manic depression, or another chronic condition may deal with their disability every day but have no clear symptoms during the class period. Learning disabilities are another common example of non-visible conditions which may become clearer as the course proceeds. The frequency of various non-obvious disabilities is one reason an announcement is strongly recommended at the beginning of each course (see Recommendations section). Individuals do have the right to keep their disability confidential. For example, an epileptic student on medication may not expect or need any adaptation and may not mention his/her condition to the professor. During a remission period a student with multiple sclerosis may not feel the need to mention the condition. These judgments are up to each student depending on their current situation. Sometimes, however, the student’s condition will worsen during the term and they will feel the need to inform you at that time. Faculty members are also welcome to ask an ODS staff member for information about how a type of disability may affect a student’s academic needs or performance.