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What are Mobility Disabilities?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Kristen Osborne
  • Last Modified Date: 10 September 2016
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Mobility disabilities are disabilities involving mobility impairments, where people have difficulty walking and engaging in other tasks requiring physical mobility. Also known as physical disabilities, such disabilities can present in a variety of ways and may vary considerably in severity. Some people with mobility disabilities need mobility aids like wheelchairs, walkers, or canes to move freely and safety.

Some mobility disabilities are congenital, the result of genetic conditions and problems during fetal development. One example is cerebral palsy, a condition where the area of the brain responsible for regulating movement is impaired, leading to partial paralysis. Others are acquired. Spinal cord injuries are a common acquired mobility disability, and as people age, they can be at risk of injuries like fractured hips that may cause temporary or permanent impairment.

When a person is diagnosed with a mobility disability, an occupational therapist and other specialists can work with the person to develop a plan for managing the disability and addressing access barriers. This can include physical therapy to keep the body in good condition, being fitted for a wheelchair to increase mobility, and learning how to work with aides and assistants to complete daily tasks that may be difficult for people with mobility impairments.

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Mobility disabilities may qualify people for disability assistance from the government, on the grounds that people may have difficulty finding suitable work when they have mobility impairments. Some people choose to work or need to work for other reasons and seek workplace accommodations so they can work safely. This can include things like wheelchair ramps, as well as rearranging office furniture so a person can move easily with a cane or walker.

Many nations have laws in place to protect people with disabilities from discrimination and to mandate accessibility in building design, especially for public buildings. Mobility disabilities are a commonly-used example of a physical disability that needs protection with such laws. Prior to the development of anti-discrimination laws, people could be refused housing, jobs, and service on the basis of their disabilities.

It is possible for mobility disabilities to be accompanied with other impairments, like intellectual disabilities or mental illness. Having multiple impairments can complicate the management of a disability and may require the services of multiple specialists. Disabilities that impair mobility can also come with complications of their own, like the risk of pressure sores in people who cannot stand or walk or the development of obesity in patients who cannot exercise for weight management.

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