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Fact Sheet

Physical disability


ReachOut fact sheets are written by young people for young people and edited by a mental health professional. Want to discuss the topic in more depth? Visit the ReachOut Forums.

Physical disabilities can be either short term (e.g. a broken wrist) or long term (e.g. paraplegia). Some disabilities can improve over time while others may not. Depending on your disability, it might be controlled with medication and physical therapy (physiotherapy). Some people are born with physical disabilities, while other physical disabilities are caused by illness, injury or accident.

Having a disability can be a huge challenge and might mean having to make changes to many aspects of your life. It might mean having to find alternative ways to achieve your goals (or make new ones).

Reactions to Disability

Having a disability can be hard to deal with - you might experience a wide range of feelings or reactions. These are things you might feel when you first find out you have a disability. However, you might experience them at other times too. Some feelings or reactions you might experience include:

  • Anger;
  • Sadness or depression;
  • Feeling scared;
  • Feeling overwhelmed;
  • Stress or anxiety;
  • Shock;
  • Frustration;
  • Denial;
  • Confusion.

What can you do?

It can be overwhelming trying to understand why you have to deal with something that can be so difficult and seem so unfair. Some suggestions that might help:

Support. Don’t be afraid to ask for support, be it from a counselor, family member or friend. Asking for support doesn’t mean you’re weak or a failure; it’s a sign of strength. It might help to ask whether the doctors have had training for both the physical and psychological aspects of disabilities. Remember, it’s okay to get a second opinion or try a new doctor or counselor if you’re not happy.

Try and be patient. Finding yourself with a disability can be really frustrating and mean that you are more dependent on other people, at least for a while.

Get informed. As with chronic illnesses, having a good understanding of your disability can help you learn to accept it. Knowing what to expect with your condition can take some of the anxiety away and help you manage it best.

Take care of yourself. Make sure that you eat well and exercise if you can. And making sure you do something special for yourself each day, even if it’s just watching your favorite TV show. Having a disability doesn’t mean you can’t have fun!

Discrimination

Discrimination is against the law. Disability discrimination happens when you are treated less fairly than people without a disability. Disability discrimination also occurs when you are treated less fairly because you are a relative, friend, care taker, or co-worker of a person with a disability. Discrimination can happen at work, college, school or a sports club. You can also be discriminated in a shop, bar or sports venue.

If you are experiencing discrimination there are things you can do:

Get informed. Check out the US Department of Justice website or the Americans with Disabilities Act to know your rights and what your options are for fighting it.

Take action. Tell or write to your manager or the person in charge about what is happening. Keep a journal to record events. If you aren’t believed or the person does not take any action, go to someone else who is in a more senior position of authority.

Get support. Tell someone you trust what is happening and take them with you when reporting the discrimination if you need the support.

Discrimination also includes bullying or harassment, which can seem less obvious.

Where to get help?

Knowing what services are available to assist you can help you to better plan around any challenges. Physical disabilities can impact on your day to day life but there are lots of services designed to assist you.

Work. The US government can provide assistance if you are unable to work due to disability. They can also provide help to continue studying or working. Some employment agencies help people with disabilities find suitable work.

Study. Most universities have disability support offices that are designed to help students with disabilities. Services can include special consideration on exams/essays, organizing for someone to take notes for you and organizing on-campus parking.

Organizations and support groups. Some disabilities are represented by non-government organizations. Support groups can be a great way to get support and advice from people who are going through and have gone through what you are going through. They provide support, advice and information. Check the yellow pages for organizations and support groups for contact details (listed under ‘Health Support Organizations).

Travel. Getting around can be a difficult when you have a physical disability. Disability access on public transport varies widely, depending on where you live (though is generally much better in cities). Give the transport company a call to find out more. Your local community service should be able to provide more information about the sorts of services they offer. If you are planning to go overseas or interstate there are travel agents who specialize in travel for persons with disabilities (check the yellow pages).

Attendants. An attendant can give you extra support and help around the house, even if it’s only for a short period. Your hospital should be able to help you find someone.

More information


Last Reviewed: May 17, 2012

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