Effective Strategies to Support Students with Orthopedic Impairments

What are some effective strategies for working with children who have orthopedic impairments?

  • Communicate with families and other professionals to coordinate care and strategies
  • Provide seating and mobility to suit students’ needs
  • Consider students’ medical needs when planning instruction and actvities
  • Explore assistive technology that might help students
  • Think about the essence of the skills you want to teach and identify the multitude of ways students can engage in the lesson and demonstrate their learning
  • Remove barriers to learning, participation, and achievement for students

Key Words for Educators

  • Mobility
  • Accommodation
  • Collaboration

Orthopedic Impairment … According to IDEA

  • Includes congenital impairments that are the result of disease or other causes
  • Severe enough to negatively impacts a student’s educational performance


  • Explore the JHU mATchup tool for great resources that support students with orthopedic impairments. Investigate any of the areas of learning, including seating, positioning, mobility, and independent living. Click here to launch the tool.
  • The National Center on Accessible Educational Materials (AEM) provides information and resources for designing accessible instruction, particularly for individuals with orthopedic impairments. Click here to learn more.

Making It Accessible

The Universal Design for Learning (UDL) movement was born out the concept of Universal Design in Architecture.  In 1997, Dr. Ron Mace and colleagues at the North Carolina State University described 7 core principles of universal design to make environments and products accessible to the masses.  These concepts formed the basis of application to multiple disciplines, including educational instruction and curriculum design.  All learners benefit from these principles; but individuals with physical impairments often embody the most concrete examples of how a little forethought can make a big difference.

For instance – if a student is able to express the same eloquent and insightful thoughts as any other classmate would you deny them the chance to demonstrate the ability just because they physically cannot grasp a pencil, when allowing an oral report would showcase their skill?

If a child does not use their legs to engage in physical activity, but instead uses a wheelchair or some other supportive device, would you deny them a chance to play with the other kids at recess or phys. Ed?

Most of us would say absolutely not, because in these contexts, it makes so much sense.  Well, it makes sense across the board for all instructional activities.  In fact, developing universally designed instruction and activities is truly the new hallmark that distinguishes teachers – of any type – from everyone else.  Imagine the new slogan – “Those who can differentiate instruction teach.”

Of course, these advances benefit all, not just individuals with orthopedic impairments, but they were the ground-breakers challenging the barriers, for which we will always be grateful.

by The Johns Hopkins University School of Education Center for Technology in Education