Systemic Disabilities

Systemic disabilities are conditions affecting one or more of the body's systems. These include the respiratory, immunological, neurological, and circulatory systems. There are many kinds of systemic impairments, varying significantly in their effects and symptoms.

Common Types

Below are brief descriptions of some of the more common types of systemic disabilities.

Cancer is a malignant growth that can affect any part of the body. Treatment can be time-consuming, painful, and can sometimes result in permanent disability.

Diabetes mellitus causes a person to lose the ability to regulate blood sugar. People with diabetes often need to follow a strict diet and may require insulin injections. During a diabetic reaction, a person may experience confusion, sudden personality changes, or loss of consciousness. In extreme cases, diabetes can also cause vision loss, cardiovascular disease, kidney failure, stroke, or necessitate the amputation of limbs.

Epilepsy/seizure disorder causes a person to experience a loss of consciousness. Episodes, or seizures, vary from short absence or "petit mal" seizures to the less common "grand mal." Seizures are frequently controlled by medications and generally do not constitute emergency situations.

Epstein Barr virus/chronic fatigue syndrome is an auti-immune disorder which causes extreme fatigue, loss of appetite, and depression. Physical or emotional stress may adversely affect a person with this condition.

Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), which causes AIDS, inhibits one's ability to fight off illness and infections. Symptoms vary greatly. People with HIV or AIDS are often stigmatized.

Lyme disease is a multisystemic condition which can cause paralysis, fatigue, fever, dermatitis, sleeping problems, memory dysfunction, cognitive difficulties, and depression.

Systemic Lupus Erythematosis (SLE) can cause inflammatory lesions, neurological problems, extreme fatigue, persistent flu-like symptoms, impaired cognitive ability, connective tissue dysfunction, and mobility impairments. Lupus most often affects young women.

Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a progressive neurological condition with a variety of symptoms, such as loss of strength, numbness, vision impairments, tremors, and depression. The intensity of MS symptoms can vary greatly. One day a person might be extremely fatigued and the next day feel strong. Extreme temperatures can also adversely affect a person with MS.

Renal disease/failure can result in loss of bladder control, extreme fatigue, pain and toxic reactions that can cause cognitive difficulties. Some people with renal disease are on dialysis, necessitating adherence to rigid schedules and to strict diet and fluid intake restrictions.

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Some Considerations

  • Students affected by systemic disabilities differ from those with other disabilities because systemic disabilities are often unstable. This causes a person condition to vary; therefore, the need for and type of reasonable accommodation may change.
  • Some common accommodations for students with systemic disabilities may include conveniently located parking, notetakers, modified course or workload, relocation of a meeting or class, priority registration, and time extensions for assignments and exams.

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Instructional Strategies

Systemic disabilities often require instructional strategies similar to those listed for other disabling conditions. The use of such strategies will depend on how the disability is manifested. Faculty members who would like more information about instructional strategies for students with systemic disabilities should contact DRES.

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