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Spinal Cord Injury (Includes Paraplegia and Quadriplegia)

Spinal cord injuries are typically classified as paraplegia or quadriplegia; however, there are functional abilities and limitations attached to both categories. Students with paraplegia typically experience paralysis of lower extremities and lower trunk but have full movement of arms, shoulders and hands. Students with quadriplegia generally experience paralysis of the lower extremities and limited use of hands but may or may not have use of their arms and shoulders.
Students with spinal cord injuries will generally require the use of mobility aids such as wheelchairs or motorized scooters. Students using mobility aids need sufficient clear space to navigate, accessible ramps, elevators or lifts, tables with enough clearance, and accommodations to reach objects. Spinal cord injuries impact more than just the ability to ambulate there are other medical issues that must be addressed. Students with spinal cord injuries often have diminished lung capacity and have problems regulating temperature. They are susceptible to heat stroke and may require assistance if overcome by heat.

Observing Spinal Cord Injury (Includes Paraplegia and Quadriplegia) in the Classroom

Faculty might observe the following characteristics in students with spinal cord injuries:

  • May need assistance in finding a place for their wheelchair
  • May have difficulty reaching or handling heavy or cumbersome objects
  • May not have the use of their hands
  • May have scheduling conflicts due to having to rely on wheelchair accessible transportation
  • May take longer to navigate between places
  • May have trouble attending class when snow and ice are not cleared
  • Are more susceptible to viruses or infection


Related Functional Characteristics

Bodily Function Control : Students with a spinal cord injury may have bodily control difficulties due to nerve damage in the spinal cord.

Breathing Difficulty : Students with spinal cord injuries may have breathing difficulties due to an inability to breathe deeply.

Climate Sensitivity : Students with spinal cord injury have difficulty with regulating body temperature in hot and cold weather which can cause muscle spasms, heat stroke and frost bite.

Fatigue (Physical) : Students with spinal cord injuries may experience physical fatigue due to breathing issues, mobility issues, low blood pressure, or chronic pain.

Motor Skill (Fine) : Spinal cord injuries can lead to decreased fine motor skill ranging from some lack of strength and control to full paralysis of fingers.

Motor Skill (Gross Lower) : Students with a spinal cord injury may experience muscle spasms, especially in the heat.

Motor Skill (Gross Upper) : Students with a spinal cord injury may have difficulty with muscle control or experience spasms in their arms, neck or upper torso.

Numbness : Injury to the spinal cord can cause numbness when the nerve impulses are interrupted; the extent of the numbness is dependent on the location and severity of the injury.

Personal Care/ Medical Equipment Needs : Students with spinal cord injuries may require medical staff or home health aides to administer medications, maintain medical equipment such as feeding tubes or nebulizers, or provide support and assistance with daily living.

Reach Restriction : Students with spinal cord injuries may use wheelchairs which may restrict their ability to reach forward, up and down.

Service Animal Needs : Students who have difficulty with grip strength or fine motor coordination may use a service animal to retrieve objects or open doors.

Susceptibility to Infection : Students with spinal cord issues may be vulnerable to viruses and infections as a result of an impaired respiratory system.

The Building Accepting Campus Communities (BACC) project was funded by the US Department of Education Office of Secondary Education grant #P333A080070-09. The University of Nebraska does not discriminate based on gender, age, disability, race, color, religion, marital status, veteran's status, national or ethnic origin, or sexual orientation.