Disability Descriptions


Also known as tetraplegia, is caused by injury to the brain or the spinal cord of the cervical spine (see diagram at bottom of page). The injury is known as a lesion and causes an individual to lose partial or total mobility in both arms and legs. An injury at the C1 will often mean the loss of function from the neck down, while a person with a C7 injury may lose function from the chest down but still have the use of the arms and much of the hands.

The extent of the injury also determines the severity of paralysis. A complete severing of the spinal cord will result in complete loss of function from that vertebra down. A partial severing or even bruising of the spinal cord results in varying degrees of mixed function and paralysis. The classification system used in a sport such as wheelchair rugby reflects the different functional abilities of the athlete.

Is a paralysis of varying degrees to the legs and trunk. Arms are unaffected in this category. The ability to propel the wheelchair is affected by trunk balance and stability. The major factor between the classes of paraplegics is the evaluation of the abdominal and spinal muscles.

Properly Poliomyelitis, or infantile paralysis as it is also known, is a viral infectious disease that ranges from causing very minor effects on the human body to paralysis. In about 1% of cases the virus enters the central nervous system where it infects and destroys motor neurons, leading to muscle weakness and acute flaccid paralysis. Spinal polio is the most common form and often affects the legs through asymmetrical paralysis, where one leg has more function than the other. Bulbar polio is another form and leads to weakness of muscles that are stimulated by cranial nerves. Bulbospinal polio is a combination of the two.

Acute flaccid paralysis- the virus interrupts muscle signals, causing muscles to grow slack and weak

Spina Bifida
Occurs when some vertebra (which protect the spinal cord) are not fully formed and remain unfused and open. In Spina Bifida’s most common, but also its most serious form, nerves and tissue of the spinal cord will protrude through the unfused opening. Because the vertebra are not protecting the spinal cord, the spinal nerves become damaged or improperly developed. This is the reason for the paralysis and loss of sensation below the unfused area. The more severe the nerve damage, the higher the level of paralysis.

Muscular Dystrophy (MD)
Can be any one of a number of genetic, hereditary muscle diseases that progressively make the muscles of the body weaker and weaker until they finally stop working. To stay healthy the muscles and membranes of our bodies need many types of proteins. Genes in our bodies create these proteins for our muscles to work. If the genes are mutated they may not receive the right information or they may leave out important information for protein creation. The body is thus incapable of producing or supplying the proper proteins.

Most types of MD will affect more than one body system. These may include the heart, nervous system, skin, eyes, gastrointestinal system, endocrine glands, and other organs.

Multiple Sclerosis
Is an autoimmune disease, where the body’s own immune system mistakenly attacks healthy tissue. MS gets its name from the buildup of scar tissue (sclerosis) in the brain and/or spinal cord. A fatty substance called myelin insulates each of the nerves of the central nervous system. This helps in the transmission of messages between the brain and other parts of the body. Scar tissue forms when the myelin is destroyed by the body’s immune system, thereby interrupting the brain’s ability to send or receive messages.

Cerebral Palsy (CP)
Is one of the most common congenital disorders of children. It affects muscle tone, movement, and motor skills. CP is a non-progressive disorder but its effects on the body may change over time. For example, some individuals may gain hand dexterity over time, while others may experience the opposite with tightening of muscles. CP can also cause other health related issues including, speech, hearing, vision, and learning disabilities. The disorder is usually caused by damage to the brain that occurs before a child’s birth up until s/he reaches 3 to 5 years of age. Exact reasons for most cases of CP are unknown but infections, maternal health problems, lead poisoning, or car accidents are all thought to have played roles in different instances.

An Amputee
Is an individual who has had a limb removed either through surgery or trauma. Some amputations are done to prevent the spread of disease from one area of the body to another. Others may be carried out as a preventative measure for the reoccurrence of potential life threatening illnesses or to control pain.


Is often referred to as being one single malady, but it actually refers to more than 100 medical conditions. For example, rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disorder where the body’s immune system attacks cells within the joint. Osteoarthritis, on the other hand, is often caused by wear and tear on the body over time and frequently doesn’t appear until a person reaches 60 years of age or more. The commonalities between all arthritis conditions are the effects on the musculoskeletal system and more specifically, the joints. Stiffness, inflammation, and pain are all common traits of arthritis. Because of this, damage can occur to joint cartilage and the surrounding areas which lead to instability and weakness of the joint. Arthritis is not limited to any one area of the body, either. It can cause damage to almost any bodily system or organ including the heart, kidneys, and lungs.

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